Did we learn anything from the Humboldt catastrophe in Saskatchewan just over two years ago? We must have, but to be honest, it’s not immediately obvious. I certainly didn’t expect everyone to become super-vigilant all of a sudden — driver, manager, and owner — and eradicate truck accidents overnight. And given our collective history of paying lip service to highway safety, maybe I should have expected nothing at all. I kinda think that’s what we got.
With Quebec’s own driver-training/testing regime working well, by all accounts, it was left to other provinces to act in some constructive way on their own. Amidst a huge public outcry, the feds promised change, but aside from urging provincial authorities to get tough on training and licensing, there’s not much they can do. The provinces chose to follow Ontario’s lead with versions of the so-called MELT (Mandatory Entry-Level Training) program as their main Humboldt response. I’ll give Ontario credit for launching this, in 2017, but it’s about minimum standards and is really just aimed at producing consistency in training schools across the province. It’s not a full-bore training curriculum, and I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s even vaguely enough. Certainly not as a response to a crash that killed 16 people. Besides, not every province has yet come up with a MELT variant that works in their jurisdiction. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta set a higher hours-of-training standard than others, but still no real teeth.
We’re still waiting for B.C.’s response, and in some ways it’s the most important because it has to deal with the most challenging terrain in the country.
Unfortunately, the implicit assumption with MELT is that fleets hiring newly minted drivers will continue training them on site. That’s fine if those drivers end up with fleets big enough to have the requisite resources to continue instruction and monitor progress. Even then, not all of them do. It’s a different tin of tuna if the new driver signs on with a small fleet. The guilty Humboldt driver was part of a two-truck operation running hard and there was clearly no culture of safety there, let alone any sort of continuing education.
I think of my favorite fleet of all, though it’s mythical – a husband-and-wife truckload operation in Brandon, Manitoba with 25 tractors. Both of them drive sometimes, both might be seen handling dispatch, and the margins are skinny. Their instincts are good, their skills are real, but the chances of them having a lot of time to work with newbies are slim. Their solution is probably not to hire inexperienced pilots at all, and their local reputation is good enough that they don’t have trouble attracting decent drivers. I know of real fleets that fit that description but the majority of small carriers don’t. So what happens to the new driver there?
Nothing good, is probably the answer, so what do we do?
I can’t see any solution other than to create a serious mandatory training course that goes way beyond MELT and its 120-or-so hours of training, only about 50 of which are on the road. In fact, such a course was developed years ago – too long and pricey, everyone agreed – and then another variation on the same theme, shorter but still expensive. The industry wouldn’t buy it, and would-be drivers couldn’t afford it, so that’s where we sit. Some sort of government intervention is obviously required.
Sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon, so in the meantime we need provinces to make the written tests for a class A/1 licence mean something. They’re dead easy as they stand. Re-write ‘em! Do the same with the driving tests – demand more than a round-the-block shuffle, make it tough like the Europeans do. And hey, wouldn’t it make sense to have drive-test examiners actually know how to drive truck?
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