It’s time to admit trucking has a safety problem

It’s a difficult topic to address, but we can’t fix a problem unless we acknowledge it’s broken. Truck safety in Ontario, and other parts of Canada, is getting worse, not better.

You see evidence of it in the news nearly every day. Another commute disrupted by a truck wreck. And in the police reports, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), publicly expressing concern about the increasing number of truck crashes on the roads it patrols.

Picture of a damaged overpass in Delta, B.C.
A truck struck and damaged an overpass on Highway 99 in Delta, B.C. in July 2023. (Photo: Delta Police Department)

And the eye test doesn’t lie. You see it on your way to work, and on the way home. You hear it from professional drivers who dread certain trips, particularly through Northern Ontario. Look at surveys of truck drivers, including this month’s Pulse Survey (look for it in the April edition), and a recently conducted survey by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).

They’re crying for help. No one wants to go to work thinking they’re taking their life in their hands, or worse, putting their lives in the hands of other road users they no longer feel they can trust. Eighty per cent of responding truck drivers in that OTA survey said they felt poorly trained truck drivers are a major concern, and that actually was the third biggest concern expressed, behind unsafe passing and lack of rest areas.

Lots of blame

There’s lots of blame to go around.

Let’s start with training. Mandatory entry-level training (MELT), implemented beyond Ontario in the wake of the tragic Humboldt Bronco’s bus crash, heightened the training requirements for new drivers. But there’s a glaring loophole in the form of lack of oversight. We simply don’t have enough policing of the training schools to ensure they’re all following the MELT curriculum.

There are still too many bad training institutions allowed to operate with impunity, training new drivers on how to obtain a Class 1 or A/Z licence, and not how to be professional truck drivers.

Then there’s the fleets that hire these drivers and turn them loose without adequate finishing programs. I hate to go back to picking on Chohan Freight Forwarders, the infamous fleet with a propensity for hitting B.C. bridges. But in a lawsuit against the province of B.C., seeking to have its operating authority restored, the company blamed an owner-operator for its most recent bridge strike, and claimed to have fired that individual, washing its hands of blame.

Where’s the accountability in that? ‘Blame the lease-op’ isn’t a safety strategy.

Insurance too easy?

How are some of these companies getting insurance? The insurance industry is our last line of defence, and are supposed experts at risk management. We hear anecdotally some of these poorly run trucking companies are relying on Facility Association insurance, and some even registered their trucks in lower-cost regions of Canada instead of where those trucks are actually domiciled.

We need to crack down on loopholes so unsafe carriers find themselves unable to operate. Maybe Facility Association insurance should be overhauled? Maybe it’s a conversation worth having?

Personally, the most frustrating piece in all of this is that we push back against safety technologies that are proven to help make trucking safer. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that include features such as lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking are proven to prevent wrecks.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, ADAS reduces the risk of a front-end collision by 82-92%. These technologies have evolved over time, and the cost is more palatable as their take rate increases. Eventually they’ll be mandated, because their effectiveness has become too well proven to ignore.

Let’s get these systems onto more trucks before waiting for government to force our hands.

I’ve just thrown a lot of shade from atop my soapbox, and it’s only fair to take a long hard look in the mirror. What more can we be doing to contribute to greater truck safety? To that end, look for more driver-oriented educational and how-to articles in Today’s Trucking and

Many will be written by Jim Park, who’s been around the block once or twice, or a million miles or so, and has the street cred to write such pieces drawing on his personal experience behind the wheel.

We can’t afford to do nothing. But the first step is admitting we have a problem.

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James Menzies is editorial director of Today's Trucking and He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 24 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • We need to make trucking into a skilled trade. We need a system to rewards and keeps long term safe truck drivers in the industry
    A truck driver with more than 3 years experience should make well above the average hourly wage in Canada. I hate beating the same drum but we need min freight rates and a system to bring back good disabled truck drivers as trainers or as coaches. I my opinion the trucking lobby has pushed for speed limiters and e logs without a plan to build enough truck parking with showers bathrooms and a drivers room. I think appointment windows should be upto to 3 hours early and 2 hours late without any fines or deductions. I volunteer with a non profit and I would love to talk to anyone about how to make the industry safer. I thinks all trucks and trailers should have a 1 hour inspection between 10 000 and 12 000 kms. .the current system of having foreign students become cheaper truck drivers needs to stop. I agree the northern ont road improvements should come ahead of the 413 construction. I believe the O T A and the Ont gov needs a system in place to have a way the company drivers and the lease ops have a seat on the O T A board as well as a health care worker anything less will not improve safety in my opinion.

  • This should be shouted from the roof tops. MELT was nothing more than a knee jerk response to Humbolt. The government’s response to simply show the public they were doing something. There are so many holes in the program you can drive a truck through them.
    When I have a class of new MELT students the first thing I tell them is that at the completion of the course and they pass their road test “You are not a truck driver”. It is now up to the carrier you go to work for to complete your training. Sadly in so many cases this does not happen. So here we are.
    Another question that is never asked “Why are DOT officers basically working for free to minimize an insurance company’s risk”? Insurance companies need there own people out in the field insuring their customers are compliant.
    Like you I will now get off my soap box and go to work tomorrow morning to provide the best training I know how. In the scheme of things a small contribution.

  • one of the issues has always been the carriers were or are unwilling to take the responsibility to finish the training that the schools complete. Regardless of what the curriculum is the graduates still need more training and experience which is an added cost to do it right but that is the only way… we cannot continue to turn these new drivers out on the roads without on the job training and coaching.

  • Us as truck company owners that have been in business for 30 + years, and having a hard time retaining drivers especially new drivers we spend at least a 3 month probationary driver training period for drivers that don’t have experience, and experience drivers have to prove to us they can do the job and are competent, and we do drug and alcohol testing and random testing anyone that fails is immediately let go they have had enough warning what would happen, After being in business for 36 years our safety record is about 97 %, I my self have about close to 5 million accident free miles, we know all to well how much work goes into a safety program but it takes a team and safety starts form the owner and trickles down to all staff, we have a Fleet of 30 power units and 110 trailers, Thank you for your time, Jake

  • I drive a 2024 tractor with all the apparent safety equipment installed. The lane keep assistance is a buzzer. The emergency brake system jammes on the brakes into shadows and lane crossovers etc. In icy road conditions that’s very dangerous.
    Instead of trying to implement systems that allow a toddler to operate a class 8 truck we need better people. As long as governments say use “truck driver” as a method to fast track a Canadian citizenship, keep stating there’s a driver shortage, which there isn’t, maybe involve an aptitude test. Driving a truck is a skill. It can’t be taught to everyone. Just like not everyone can be a lawyer or a doctor. Until truck driving is treated as a special skill we’ll have truckers that cause accidents. Also teach car drivers how to drive around trucks.

    • You’re 100% right about the new fangled technologies and how it is just producing less skilled drivers. We see it all the time in Northern Ontario highways here. I have a 2018 truck with that anti rollover junk on and it is 1 of the many reasons why I stepping back to older power units. It is simply unsafe in certain road conditions and does absolutely no good to a driver that is paying attention. Driver distraction is a major issue nowadays as well as just attaching the title “truck driver” onto new immigrants as a way to fast track them into the country. As well as the carriers that take advantage of that system and receive government subsidy for it. Their focus is certainly not on safety or professionalism but solely on dollars(rupees) in pockets.

  • There are many out there driving trucks who should be on a bicycle and even that is a stretch.

    If I was handing out infractions, I wouldn’t have time to do much else. Speeding well above 105km, unsafe passing, tailgating vehicles at distances I don’t even have in a nightmare, lack of knowledge, bullying other drivers with their size, the list goes on.

    These things go on because one hardly ever sees a police patrol vehicle on the 401 between Toronto and Montreal.

    True, there are many safe drivers out there,but you don’t hear about them because they aren’t involved in any incidents.

  • I worked in fleet safety throughout my career. There are some very well managed fleets who put professional drivers and well maintained equipment on the road every day. What’s their secret. Setting high qualifying standards, doing in depth screening, and on hiring providing quality on boarding and reinforcing expectations. If you want the best then you need to pay the best. Provide drivers with regular training, provide monthly safe driving incentives, and requalify them yearly to your hiring standards. That’s the start. I’ve seen the worst carriers in my day when doing fleet safety evaluations and they’d laugh when I made these suggestions. Hence, here we are today still sharing the road with incompetents!

  • I have been saying this for 20 years.
    MELT was joke right from the the start, you cannot train a Professional Driver in 104 hours. Transport Canada, Trucking Associations, Provinces all applauded MELT. We have a 355 hour, true National Standard foe training Entry Level Drivers sitting in moth balls. The true root cause for our poor safety record in trucking is unqualified people making decisions on driver training and pathetically poor or inexperienced managers running trucking companies.

  • You bet there is. I quit trucking because it has become a horrible industry to be a part of.
    I know work in a mine and I sometimes have to unload transports.
    I have taken pictures of transports coming in here with steel fabricated fan housings just sitting on flatbed decks UNSECURED!!!
    Others with their straps sawed off and dragging on ground behind trailers.
    Driver doors and hoods bungee corded shut.
    Trsnsports delivering explosives with BALD recap tires (and that was one of the biggest carriers in Canada that preaches their greatness)

    I have sent these pics to Mike Wells, district head of the MTO in this area, my local MTO, my MPP’s….and you know what their response was?
    “That is unfortunate. Maybe next time you see that report it to the OPP”

    Hope they sleep well at night knowing this is on our highways now with their wives and kids.

  • MTO road test is a joke – raise the standard and you immediately raise the training required to pass. Truck driving is much more than steering a truck – make it a skilled trade with training only at professional schools not just paperwork filled out to become a “career college”. (Same issue with foreign student problem)
    Maybe deregulation wasn’t such a good idea. $$ over lives. And enforcement – truck following too close – fined and points, and etc.

  • You should do it like oversees. Before anything else tge candidate must pass a psychological exam and an hand foot eye coordination test. If they oass then you will be safe. But I bet my monthly income 3/4 of actual and possible drivers will fail. Which is a good thing for the ones who will qualify. As better pay and recognition .

  • You are of course correct James. The question is do we need to return to the days long gone by of a “regulated trucking industry” where you needed government issued operating authority before you could haul any load. You were restricted to specific routes and specific products and had to apply to add additional trucks to your fleet. New drivers started on the dock and then with local deliveries in straight trucks, eventually graduating to local tractor trailer, then linehaul. Truck drivers were respected and in many cases had company uniforms etc. I personally believe that deregulation was the beginning of where we find ourselves today. If you can buy a truck and trailer, find some cargo insurance and complete the NSC application you are now a trucking company! Free to roam the highways, cutting rates and racing to your next destination. The gate keepers of this industry (Baby Boomers) have or are retiring, and find ourselves vastly out numbered by those that “just need a license” so they can go trucking!

    I guess I am guilty of being a bit of an idealist, assuming that everyone wants to be properly trained and be safe professional drivers and that’s what carriers are looking to hire. I am of course correct with some of the potential drivers and the better quality carriers, but that seems to be less and less now. Since MELT started in BC we now have 44 class 1 driver training schools who are “MELT Certified” in Surrey alone. I have had a secret shopper call these schools and they openly admit to not following MELT rules but they will get you your certification so you can do the Government road exam. Where is the enforcement? I’m told that the government will investigate any student complaints, which is great but if I just want a license and there is a bottom feeder carrier that will hire me why would I complain?

    Every school needs to be audited at least every 12 months as does every carrier. The regulators will tell you “We don’t have the resources”. Until there is enough importance placed on highway safety, innocent people will continue to die and infrastructure will continue to be destroyed.

    Every day is a little bit worse.

    As a last thought I think pay by the hour will go along way to slowing people down. The risk of profitability needs to be shared between the driver and the carrier. Pay by the mile and pay by the trip just encourages speeding and high risk driving! Pay by the hour encourages, safe behaviour and good fuel economy, which also translates to less down time / lower repair bills.

    Thanks for listening!

  • MELT did not start because of the Bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos. It may have accelerated it in the rest of Canada. Melt was already instituted in Ontario the summer previous , July 1, 2017, the crash was April 2018.
    ELDT, Entry Level Driver Training was first mandated by the US Congress in 1992. So little was done by the States to implement the training , Teamsters sued the US DOT in 2014 for not completing the requirement for ELDT process in 1993.
    Consequently , some states implemented enhanced written examination about that time, 2014, other states had developed ELDT curriculum and practicum by 2016. Finally in Feb 2022 a nation wide minimum theory curriculum was mandated with a minimum score of 80%. However no minimum hours are determined in the US Federal version. Unfortunately I don’t see minimum of practice hours. So , again , Canada is far ahead of what is happening down south.
    As usual Canadian provincial standards have minimum hours for theory and practicum creating a much higher expectation of training
    I can only hope the individual states each mandate a more definitive model, So far I have seen no evidence of that. I stand to be corrected if someone can forward standards of minimum practical experience in any State of the Union.
    Meanwhile I am glad we have reached the benchmarks
    across Canada in one form or other.
    Now on to the problem of enforcing those minimums and creating a more uniform culture of complete training and practice.
    Next step, master truck drivers who will ride in the passenger for a couple hundred hours to mentee the recent graduate.
    And I agree with Stephen about facilitating financial support for the education process.

  • Sad to say, but some are advocating for the Gig economy or Owner Operator route for hiring drivers.
    This can only lead to less management control and training and ultimately more accidents.

    Drivers being part of an organization that emphasizes Safety and the Law, providing Driver Benefits and Tax Revenue to Government is a responsible Canadian Tradition.

    To those who would skirt this responsible approach and the relative laws, should be severely taken to task and be sent to jail for an act of Fraud, and also severely fined.
    Governments and CRA are complicit in this act of lawlessness!!!!!

  • I bought My first Used Truck in 1972 and My first New White Western Star in 1973. Grandfathered My Chauffeur’s Licence to The Class A. None of these money grabbing Truck Training Schools. Us Old School Driver’s taught Ourselves and took Pride in Driving Big Rigs. Taught My Brother to Drive while running the Sault in a Brand New ‘85 W/Star. He now has 37 years over the road safe driving experience. Me I clicked 38 years. To be honest, My opinionated reason for what’s taking place on Our Roads is the Influx of East Indian Jockey’s pushed through all these lousy Training so called School. Be honest, that’s the Core Problem, bar none. They have ruined this Industry with ill trained drivers, Shotty Equipment, Rate Cutting any No Respect for Trucking as a Proud Career. Point the finger where it belongs, very sad situation it has become.

  • The industry is souly to blame for flooding the industry with cheap and government subsidizes wages for people who are not truck drivers they are people looking for their permanent residency, most who stay in the left lane at 110km watching a movie with a foot up on the dash until they hit something and the will.I been a truck driver for 40 years ,it looks like all these companies have no choice but to send a bad driver on the road.

  • As someone who has been involved with all avenues of this business for the past 45 years.
    Having observed the decline with increasing with intensity.
    I whole heartedly agree. We have a major problem.

    Programs to prevent collisions are not t a real solution.
    This is more about controlling those who are not willing, capable or qualified to operate these vehicles.

    I have been suggesting for years that operating large trucks needs to be a Registered Trade.
    With a proper and complete program to be administered.
    Including a graduated License.
    With individual, earned, certificates pertaining to various types of cargo and vehicles.
    This would certainly take longer than a few weeks to complete.

    I could go on about this for hours, so I to, am getting off my soap box.

    I truly would like my industry, to return to a respected, responsible and professional trade that it could be.

  • Make getting your CDL more difficult. Go to a graduated drivers license system. Employers have to have experienced drivers in the passenger seat operating solo. Have government funds available to offset the cost. Just raising the cost of MELT isn’t the answer. Having technology to operate the truck so anyone can sit in the drivers seat isn’t the answer. Operating a tractor trailer is a skill. A skill alot of people don’t have….but are licensed. I have 25 yrs safe operation as a A class driver. I drove a straight truck my first yr. Then a dump truck and trailer before going to a tractor trailer. This was my choice but maybe it should be a systematic part of a graduated license system.

  • Thank you James, and please remain strong in the awareness. It needs to start at home, I know Ihad to learn, and yes made mistakes. Our regulations are there for a reason. Our need, cannot so great, that must put lives at stake.

  • I think that training for small vehicle drivers so they understand trucks can’t stop on a dime and can’t not see them in blind spots
    Then make Cell phones only work though a blue tooth on all vehicles when in motion
    It may be some trucks at fault but I know from experience that small vehicle drivers cause many of the problems and drive away with out a care
    Thank you

  • One of the first things I noticed about these truck accidents is that those writing the stories never mention the name of the truck driver or the company they work for after they cause an accident. Many cite privacy laws but I also noticed that those reporting the accidents seem to pick and chose the names they mention. Privacy laws should go out the window as these accidents seem to be on the rise and more and more innocent people are hurt or worse. Another problem is that a lot of these companies are self insured. I have worked for a few prominent companies over the years that were self-insured. Maybe it’s time to take another look at this scenario and see if these self-insured companies are holding up their responsibilities to the public. Most are. For those that aren’t, cut off their access to self insurance. I recently retired from over the road driving and for a while, worked for a well known truck driving school in the Windsor Ontario area. This school took the training very seriously in the Melt program. Not all the drivers passed the first time around out of the Windsor test centre. Some never passed after repeated attempts and were subsequently dropped on the retries. I would also look at all the truck driving schools. Most are reputable and do have the best interests of all parties concerned. I’ll bet there are still some unreputable ones operating. Governments should never let politics dictate who can run a school and who shouldn’t. All should be held to a very high standard because ultimately a tractor-trailer can cause tremendous devastation in an accident with lifelong repercussions and lifelong heartbreaking trauma. When I started driving, I did so only with my chauffeur’s license. I was grandfathered in on my A license in 1977. Driving back then was a joy. The camaraderie and professionalism was there every day. Today that is gone. As some would say, you can’t go back. The trucks are definitely better but for the most part, the pay still sucks in 2024 standards because you don’t always get paid for what you do which has an impact on driver’s attitude. You talk about some of the new safety features in these modern trucks. I can agree with lane maintaining but disagree with automatic braking. My biggest concern is the winter. I don’t want somebody pulling in front of me and forcing the brakes on in icy road conditions. If there is a cutoff switch for winter driving then fine. Ultimately, at this juncture, I can’t see the quality of drivers getting better only worse. For every accident, governments need to look at where they were trained and how good and long was their training and who at which drive centre gave them a pass.

  • James

    I started as an over the road driver in 1985 and came off the road to begin my next chapter in trucking as a driver trainer and Safety Professional in 1993. Of course there weren’t as many trucks on the road during that time and it was different culture of driver then. I’m sure the older folks like me can relate. I have had many conversations with drivers and safety professionals that have been around to see the changes over the past 30 years and I always hear the same thing: “We used to be a brotherhood. Most truck drivers looked out for everyone and there seemed to be more respect toward trucks drivers then there is today. The public also had somewhat of a different opinion about truck drivers then as they do now. Many drivers are quite nervous to be anywhere near a truck while travelling on the road. Why is that? Because there are more crashes and more stories of crashes on the road and magnified when a truck is involved.
    I spent 5 years away from safety to work in Operations and sort of lost touch of the happenings in the training world and it was during that time the MELT program came into effect. I was quite happen at that time something was done to improve training standards but in all reality I don’t see the improvement. I have seen hundreds of newly licensed and recently licensed truck drivers that struggle to operate and maneuver a tractor trailer unit safely. The carriers that do have a good finishing program take a great of time and investment teaching new and newer drivers the basics when it comes to safe handling techniques that in my opinion could have been done at the school level. Carriers that don’t have a finishing program are at a much higher risk of serious collisions and violations affecting their safety scores.
    So does it require policing of schools? Yes that should be part of it but more importantly in my opinion is the instructors that teach the new drivers or coach newer drivers need to be able to teach the basics of cornering, dealing in traffic, reversing and defensive driving instead of focusing on the road test. Many schools that I have observed focus on the road test routes, where they do their backing part of the test, and how they want the pre-trip done. Based on road test standards and timing, many folks don’t even open the hood anymore when carrying out a road test. I have personally evaluated several drivers during a pre-hire road fail to open the hood and respond by saying; “That’s how were were taught and didn’t have to open the hood on our road test.” Why did this change? I believe it was to reduce a back log of folks waiting for road tests by reducing time on a test. There are Associations and groups that work to improve training standards and do conduct audits and maybe in some cases Police the schools but there are more schools than auditors so we need to rely on the schools to improve their training We also need to look at in my opinion improving the MELT program’s instructor training and qualifications.

    Thanks again for the good read James.

    Dwayne Barnett
    President- Transportation Safety Plus Inc.

  • good day Sir … by starting to read your artical there is lots to blame .. but the goverment should get a set of balls and admit the blame … instead they are punishing the rest of us for there screw ups … i am not good with computers and e mails

  • REALLY!!!!!!
    Those of us that are in the industry, not just writing about it have known of this problem for a very long time.
    You are delusional if you think anything will come of your article!
    Nobody is going to go after what the real issue is, now that would be brave!!