Serious mandatory truck driver training is needed

Rolf Lockwood

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.

truck driver road test
(Photo: iStock)

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?

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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  • Melt is not important. Change trucking system. Give them more rest time and money. If not, it will happens again and again. The Inexperienced driver commited the traffic accident. It was just a driver who was Inexperienced did in the wrong.

  • Well said Mr. Lockwood. Higher standards are necessary to keep our roadways safe. Also, the provinces should consider some sort of oversight similar to what they used to do with the DCP program, not the privately engaged auditors of today who by and large lack the industry experience. The less than honest schools still have free reign to doctor training hours. Also, consider some sort of apprenticeship regime whereby the carriers take some ownership over their drivers similar to any regulated trade. Currently, amongst carriers there still is much disparity as to what training a newly licenced driver receives. There still are numerous gaps to fill.

  • The size of the fleet is not the problem I have seen very small fleets that will only take on one new truck driver every 3 months in Manitoba and the driver runs the owner of the company for a minimum of 10 weeks and then the driver runs with another driver for another 3 months before getting in a truck by themselves. The government needs to make this the industry standard for anyone driving a truck in any city of over 100,000 people or major 4 Lane or more roads. Truck drivers need training for different types of loads and weather. We need to make so small trucking companies can get insurance to bring in more new truck drivers and driver pay and working conditions are good enough to keep truck drivers pay close to the pay of other trades and not the cheaper foreign lower wage countries.

  • Thanks for writing important article, driver training standard implemented In 2017 but Still the driver training is conducting by old licensing mills and now they are Registered licensing mills with MTCU. I agree with you that driver training hours behind the wheel are very less.
    Examiners from DriveTest have no trucking experience and never driven tractor trailer. MTO should look into it ASAP. Nice article.

  • More training isn’t the answer. Forcing students to accredited schools is just expensive. Just make a really tough test with very high standards. Written and road test. We did pretty good training prospects with our own (undocumented) method. Those who got licensed were trained specifically for our segment. They could fit tire chains, knew our DVIR program, knew our routes, and had specific knowledge of our specialized trailers. If I hired a MELT graduate, we’d still have to take it from the beginning, and the prospect would come with a large debt and an attitude that they’re already qualified and their instructor knew more than we know. Not much value in that in exchange for pulling the rug out from under us.

  • Hi Rolf,
    It’s a given that the present-day MELT program was designed and is geared only toward preparing a would-be commercial driver for the DriveTest–administered Class A road test. MELT is not creating experienced and conscientious drivers. While I agree that more must be done, particularly by the Federal/Provincial governments, the industry must take on more responsibility regarding training completion and mentoring new commercial drivers. After all, the newly-minted Class A recipient is in great demand, so they tell us. In addition, that new Class A driver hold more power over life and death than a surgeon in an operating room. I’d also wager that total insurance claims are probably higher in the road transportation business than for medical negligence. If, as you wrote, a proper training course is ‘too long and pricey, as everyone agreed’, I’d like to know who ‘everyone’ actually is? Trucking companies? Government? General public? Insurance companies? Lets talk ‘Nuclear Verdicts’ and add the recent Auditor General’s report regarding the transportation issues here in Ontario. Just as a start, of course…

  • So 18,000 is too much for an effective legitimate National Standard Training Program for Entry Level Professional Drivers.
    So killing 16 people at one time launches the lowest possible training standard we could get away with. MELT is an embarrassment to trucking industry as most carriers will never provide additional training for new hires.
    MELT and National Standard should never be used in the same sentence.