In the wake of the horrific bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, there are growing calls for mandatory training for transport truck drivers across Canada, which is currently only required in Ontario.
While RCMP say they are still investigating the cause of the deadly crash between a tractor-trailer and the Broncos team bus that killed 16 people in Saskatchewan, the owner of the Calgary trucking company involved said the 30-year-old driver obtained his license a year ago and had been on the road for two weeks, after undergoing two weeks of training.
“I do my best. I give the training within 15 days,” Sukhmander Singh, the owner of Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., told reporters. He said he showed his drivers how to secure their load with straps, “but the guys have already a licence, maybe one year ago.”
Currently all provinces require commercial drivers to pass written, medical and road tests, with training encouraged but not mandatory. Ontario requires drivers to complete a 103.5-hour course in the classroom and at the wheel with a licensed school.
Steve Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance, called for all provinces to adopt Ontario’s “gold standard” for trucking requirements known as the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program .
“Ontario is the only province in Canada which you have to have a minimum amount of hours training prior challenging the road test,” he said. “We want to raise the bar for highway safety.”
Ontario introduced the mandatory training standards for new truck drivers last July, becoming the first province to do so.
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Laskowski said the majority of trucking companies embrace a “culture of safety,” but there are some who are willing to take risks.
The tragedy in Humboldt claimed the lives of 10 players between the ages of 16 and 21, when a semi-trailer carrying a load of peat moss collided with the Broncos bus. Memorial services for those killed began Thursday and will continue into the week.
Saskatchewan Government Insurance, which regulates trucking standards in the province, said although training is “strongly recommended,” it is not mandatory.
“The majority of Class 1 applicants in Saskatchewan take some amount of Class 1 training before taking the test. The content of training varies by training school,” Tyler McMurchy, a spokesperson for SGI said.
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Following the Humboldt tragedy, SGI said it is working with those in the industry about strengthening the training requirements, adding it hopes to have a new program in place by 2019.
“SGI is recommending 70 hours of training, which will be comprised of ‘in class’ (theory), ‘in yard’ and ‘in truck’ (practical),” he said. “SGI would like to continue to expand the program over time to get to 103.5 hours (like Ontario).”
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason told Global News he has asked his department to look at mandatory driver training similar to the MELT program.
“In Ontario they require about 100 hours on the road before someone qualifies to drive one of the big rigs, so we are certainly in discussions with stakeholders on that we are reviewing that. I’ve asked the department to put that on the front burner as a matter of urgency in light of what has happened.”
“I’ve also asked for a review of intersection safety on provincial highways throughout Alberta.”
In the Maritimes, the regional trucking association has been lobbying the provinces for the past three years to require drivers to undergo training. The industry has developed a program consisting of eight weeks of training followed by a four-week internship with a fleet.
But it remains voluntary.
“We’ve been at the government for a while now to change that, to make it mandatory, but it’s taking time. It’s quite frustrating,” said Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association.
He said reputable companies won’t hire drivers unless they have proper training, but smaller operators will and also lack the resources to conduct refresher training, which larger companies will do annually.
“Most companies, they’re so safety-oriented today because just one spillover on the side of the road can cost a company hundreds of thousands. Some companies can’t sustain that; financially, they’d be out of business.”
After hearing reports the truck driver received just two weeks of training, Picard said that’s just “not enough.”
“I can tell you that that’s not enough. I mean, based on my experience and my knowledge of what needs to get learned in the 12 weeks, two weeks is just not enough. It’s unfortunate but it is what it is,” said Picard.
Marc Cadieux, President of the Quebec Trucking Association, said he wasn’t opposed to mandatory training but that it wasn’t as much of a problem in the province.
“We are not as concerned,” he said.
The Quebec government operates two large schools, in Saint-Jérôme and Charlesbourg, and most of the industry hires graduates of those institutions, he said.
“It’s a 615-hour program which is the top program that exists in Canada. I’m not saying that we’re perfect. I’m saying that we don’t feel, as much as other provinces, the need of an entry level,” he said. “But we’re not against it.”
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Quebec also allows potential employers to examine the professional driving records of those applying for jobs, whereas other provinces only make available a full driving record that includes personal vehicle use, he said.
Nova Scotia’s Transportation Ministry said at this time it is not looking at mandatory truck driver training. Global News reached out to all provincial transportation ministries for comment and will update this story if there is a response.
For Picard and Laskowski, they would like training to be mandatory across the country.
*With files from Sean O’Shea