Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and his provincial counterparts emerged from a Council of Ministers meeting in Montreal on Jan. 21, with a promise to implement a national training standard for entry-level truck drivers by 2020. It’s about time.
It was a late Christmas present for the trucking industry, which has been lobbying hard to get such a program put into place. Currently, only Ontario has mandatory training requirements for entry-level truck drivers, though other provinces are following suit.
Ontario’s mandatory entry-level training (MELT) standard went into effect in July 2017, and employers report having better-prepared driver applicants showing up at their door – still needing additional training, but at least having a command of basic driving skills. A set of skills they can work with through a mentoring and finishing program.
The Jan. 21 announcement was a long time coming, and almost certainly a result of the tragic Saskatchewan crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus, which resulted in 16 fatalities. The semi driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, has plead guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
He is awaiting sentencing and will likely be spending a long time behind bars; the crown is seeking a 10-year sentence. Sidhu took full responsibility for the crash, citing his lack of experience as a factor.
We as an industry, and as a nation, share some of the blame for allowing Sidhu to so easily obtain a commercial driver’s licence, to gain employment, and to operate for any length of time – enough time to have racked up 70 violations, most of which were related to hours-of-service. How many other Sidhus are operating on our roads today because of the lax entry standards we have created?
It’s stunning to me that hairstylists, deemed a trade by the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, require 3,500 hours (approximately two years) of training, including 3,020 hours of on-the-job work experience and 480 hours of in-school training, while in most of Canada, all one must do to obtain a licence to operate an 80,000-lb commercial vehicle on public roads is to pass a short road and written test. Even Ontario’s MELT program requires only 103.5 hours of training.
Think about that for a second.
It would take quite some clipper calamity to result in a fatality and jail time for a hairstylist. But truckers go to work every day realizing one bad mistake can cost someone their life, and land them behind bars. The training requirements and the responsibilities of the job just don’t equate.
Yet we as an industry, send unprepared and undertrained drivers out onto the highway every single day. That has to change, and it will eventually change, if the feds successfully implement nationwide training standards for entry-level drivers and if employers follow that up with further on-the-job training and mentoring.
Once this is achieved, and the provinces follow through with implementation, the long overdue recognition of truck driving as a skilled trade should follow. But is it any wonder the industry has been unsuccessful in having truck driving recognized as such, when the barrier to entry is so low? Finally, there seems to be an appetite to fix this.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies