Humboldt’s Legacy: The lessons truck drivers will learn

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Few events have shaken Canada’s trucking industry more than last spring’s crash between a truck and Humboldt Broncos bus near Armley, Sask. Families were left to mourn 16 dead and support the 13 wounded. The charges against Adesh Deol Trucking and its driver are now making their way through the courts.

But there are already signs that this collision will have a lasting legacy – especially as provinces look to refine the skills of those behind the wheel.

Saskatchewan has just announced that, as of March 15, it will require future Class 1 drivers to complete 121.5 hours of training before earning a licence. This news followed a similar announcement that Alberta, home to Calgary-based Adesh Deol Trucking, will mandate training of its own.

In doing so, they are shining a light on the lack of action by other provinces.

Manitoba Trucking Association executive director Terry Shaw took to Twitter when critiquing his government’s slower response. “ON, AB and now SK have all beaten MB out of the gate on this issue. MB is recognized as a transportation hub yet @MBGov is silent on this critical transport policy. @TruckingMB members are concerned. @Brian_Pallister, @Min_Schuler, will MB mandate truck driver training?” he tweeted.

It is moving, however. Related consultations were scheduled for Jan. 7 in Winnipeg and Jan. 10 in Brandon.

The concept of mandatory training is nothing new. But for years the idea has been punted from one provincial government to the next. Prior to the crash only Ontario had moved forward to introduce 103.5 hours of mandatory training before someone can qualify to take a road test. I am comfortable suggesting that public and political pressure have moved the western jurisdictions forward.

These changes certainly help to further the case that driving a truck is a skilled trade. It’s hard to make that case if someone can be hired without formal training.

Still, the announcements are the easy part. To truly honor the victims of the Humboldt crash we have to ensure such changes in the name of safety are lasting and meaningful.

In Ontario, for example, we continue to see training schools exploit a loophole around “advanced standing”. Originally meant to recognize the experience of those who already have extensive experience with other heavy equipment, like dump trucks, the lack of a clear definition has allowed people with limited experience to complete less than the 103.5 hours. This shortcoming has to be addressed.

We need to recognize that training for new drivers will not prevent every crash, either. It’s merely one tool to make a difference; some assurance that those starting their first jobs have a reasonable foundation to build upon. Fleets need to commit themselves to offering further support when newly licensed drivers are welcomed through the doors, and to ensure that those put at the wheel of challenging equipment have a solid foundation in other work.

Regulators, meanwhile, must continue to find ways to keep sanctioned carriers and drivers off the road, rather than allowing someone to hide behind a new company name.

The names of those lost or injured in Saskatchewan are a perfect reminder that we need to do better.


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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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