Driver training in the spotlight

by Derek Clouthier

REGINA, Sask. — The call for a mandatory entry-level driver training program is nothing new for the trucking industry.

The recent tragedy that struck the community of Humboldt, Sask., has shined a light on programs like Ontario’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) and the need for other provinces to implement their own standards for commercial driver training.

Several provinces in Western Canada – Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan – have taken steps following the Humboldt Broncos bus collision with a tractor-trailer, looking at adopting entry-level driver training requirements, and for many in the industry, it is an effort long overdue.

“Drivers have the opportunity to attend the quickest and lowest cost course just to have training on their resume,” said Chris Nash, president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA), pointing out that entry-level driver training is not yet mandatory in the province. “This does not effectively train the driver. The AMTA looks forward to working with industry and government to find a mandatory solution to this problem.”

The AMTA has been working with stakeholders and government on the groundwork of a mandatory entry-level driver training program since 2017, and was pushing for the program for years prior to that.

“Considerations were to build effective ways to ensure driver competency by designing commercial driving as a trade, as a designation, or some sort of prerequisite to driving as possible solutions,” said Nash.

At present, the legal requirements for a Class 1 licence in Alberta are to be at least 18 years of age, be on non-probationary status, have completed air-brake training, complete a written knowledge test, medical and vision test, and finally, pass a road test.

“The AMTA believes a MELT standard is a must,” said Nash, “and effective competency assessments will be the backbone of the program.”

The Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) has also been advocating for mandatory entry-level training for a long time, and has successfully advocated to the province for full funding to truck driver training.

As of April 18, the province indicated that more than 60 had taken advantage of that full funding, which was above expectations.

But as MTA executive director Terry Shaw points out, though there is funding and an accompanying training retention program for participating companies, it remains voluntary.

“Trucking companies or future truck drivers are still not required to participate in pre- or post-licensing training,” said Shaw. “The vast majority of our industry does, but the minimum standards definitely needs to be raised.”

Even with years of lobbying efforts from all associations in the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) family, Shaw alludes that the profession of the commercial driver does not always get the respect it deserves.

“In Manitoba, the occupations of hair dresser and air-conditioning mechanic have higher pre-employment training standards than transport truck drivers do,” he said. “This is by no means a knock on other trades, but a simple recognition that the province already recognizes that value of pre-employment training standards and has a system in place to manage them.”

Current driver training in the province must be to the National Occupational Standard, but there is no requirement for new drivers in Manitoba to access the training.

“Based on the relative safety exposure as well as the skill and knowledge sets required of a transport truck driver,” Shaw said, “we remain committed to seeing that our government raises the bar.”

That commitment has resulted in some movement on mandatory entry-level driver training.

On April 26, the Manitoba government announced it was consulting on the implementation of a standardized system of training and certification for commercial drivers as a collaborative effort between Manitoba Infrastructure, Education and Training, and Public Insurance.

“Our first priority is public safety on roadways and that is why we are announcing that we have started work across government to consider how a standardized system could work for the trucking industry,” said Minister of Infrastructure Ron Schuler. “This is something the trucking industry has asked for and we want to work together in a collaborative way to see how this would work in Manitoba.”

Following the announcement, Shaw tweeted that he was looking forward to working with the government on the entry level driver training standard, and that “a very good first step was taken today.”

“It is clear that Manitoba needs to start this work to ensure that all provinces are moving together on a standardized system of training,” Schuler added. “This work is beginning immediately and we hope to move forward with a plan of action as soon as possible.”

For a time, it also looked like mandatory entry-level driver training was set to be regulated in Saskatchewan by 2019. But though this remains a possibility, it is not yet set in stone.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) put the brakes on the reports alluding to a mandatory entry-level driver training program for 2019, saying its initial bulletin had “led to confusion.”

“We would like to clarify that no decision has been made regarding mandatory Class 1 training,” the most recent bulletin states. “We apologize for the confusion this has caused.”

In an April 27 release, the STA had voiced its support for what it believed would be a regulatory commitment from SGI to have mandatory entry-level driver training by 2019.

“The STA is proud to be able to announce that this will finally be a reality in our province,” the release stated. “The announcement is fresh and there are many details that still need to be worked out and the STA will be there every step of the way.”

But just days later, SGI clarified that its announcement was not a commitment to a regulation being place by 2019, but rather just a possibility.

Prior to the Humboldt tragedy, the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA) had been working on a curriculum with SGI that included 70 hours of training. The program was set to be rolled out in 2019, but the Humboldt incident has since turned mandatory entry-level training on its head.

“The trucking industry has come under heavy scrutiny for the lack of training for drivers and regulations around how carriers receive their operating authorities,” Susan Ewart, executive director of the STA, said in a release. “There has been much controversy over whether the training should be mandatory or standardized and the push across the country has been to make commercial truck driving Class 1 licences mandatory.”

Ewart added that the STA will continue its discussions with SGI and SGI Crown Corporation on the next steps for commercial driver licensing in the province, and told Truck West that the effort is an important one.

“Mandatory training creates a standardized formal education for those wanting to be a professional truck driver,” she said, “and MELT forms part of the bigger picture that truck driving is a skilled profession and needs to be looked at as such.”

Further west, there has not been any movement on mandatory entry-level training.

Much like Alberta, in B.C. there is a range of different driver training courses people can take, but none are mandatory.

“Both provincial and federal governments should be supporting a mandatory, entry-level training standard for Class 1 licensing,” said B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) communications specialist Shelley McGuinness. “The federal government should start by recognizing the skills required by commercial drivers as in the proposed National Occupational Standard (NOS) for commercial vehicle operators.”

McGuinness said some provincial driver training schools in the province provide more rigorous programs than others. There are also periodic government-sponsored programs offered through public and private schools.

“Some prepare trainees specifically to pass the ICBC (Insurance Corporation of B.C.) Class 1 road test without consideration for the range of other skills a driver requires on the job,” said McGuinness. “A few, to their credit, take the NOS into account. But, it’s still the case that you get what you pay for.”

McGuinness said that, in addition to safety, the driver shortage is an issue behind the BCTA’s push for better training.

“BCTA’s focus more than a decade ago was to deal with the perception that truck driving isn’t a desirable career, that it needs a higher profile to interest young people considering a profession,” she said, adding that the association, along with other partners, created the Human Resources Strategic Plan for the industry in 2006, an initiative that included driver training and improvements to ICBC’s certification requirements.

The program got only as far as the pilot phase with the province’s Industry Training Authority (ITA). Because of budget cuts it was discontinued.

“This was in 2011, and both the ITA and provincial government indicated in the past they are unlikely to mandate a training program,” said McGuinness. “We continue to advocate for a standard, however, including promoting adoption of a program similar to MELT in Ontario.”

Cindy Brewer is the driver instructor resource manager for Valley Driving School out of Langley, B.C.

Brewer said drivers who receive proper training are more knowledgeable, skilled, competent, and safe on the road.

“Mandatory entry-level driver training would ensure that all potential drivers would get that training and be better prepared for a professional driving career,” said Brewer. “Mandatory entry-level driver training in B.C. could also reduce road test failures, decreasing the wait time for an ICBC commercial road test appointment.”
Valley Driving School teaches its students how to operate a tractor-trailer in a variety of real-life situations, including mountain driving, steep grades, and heavy traffic, as well as chaining up and load securement. They also offer an evasive maneuvering course on its closed-circuit training site that helps drivers avoid collisions.

Brewer said their students come from a variety of backgrounds and have differing levels of knowledge and skill behind the wheel, and their training is individually tailored.

“We are often correcting bad habits from years of driving cars,” she said. “One-handed steering, weak observation skills, and not using turn signals are just a few examples.”

It has been reported that the driver of the tractor-trailer involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus collision had completed 15 days of training approximately two week prior to the crash.

For many who have not driven a truck before, Brewer said it can be an eye-opening experience.

“The first lesson often provides students with a reality check when they realize that they have previously taken truckers for granted, cutting in front of them or stopping abruptly when a truck is behind them,” said Brewer. “A challenge for students is to change the way they think about their driving habits and abilities.”

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  • Excellent post-I have been involved in trucking for 60 years-driver-driver training – sales – accident investigation-fleet management etc. and have advocated trade classification for as long. The transportation companies lobby our government to keep wages low, and safety on our highways seems secondary to private sector and governmental groups regarding “Professional Driver” status. The “owner operator” is a challenge, as they are not structured and impossible to police. Hopefully, finally an upgrade will slow carnage on our provincial highways and the public will feel safe once again.

  • So various associations and government agencies want entry level training for truck drivers. It seems to me that once upon a time that was the norm for the trucking industry. Prior to deregulation in the 1980s most national carriers had in house training programs. CP Transport for instance . They hired new drivers and started them on 5 tons doing p&d. Then single axle tractors with pup trailers. Then tandem city tractors and so on. Every step up was predicated on a year of incident free driving at the prior level. It cost the company money but the return was evident in reduced accidents and cargo claims.
    Today with the current state of trucking all that has gone by the wayside. Bottom lines rule. Wrecks and claims are considered a cost of doing business. Im certain that someone that has a brand new class one license can buy a truck and be on the road with no prior experience. I see an ad in your news paper that is willing to pay new team driver 27 cents per mile. That is a blast from the past.
    Its all just talk, smoke and mirrors.

  • You are so right in 2006 a lack training and pay was concern of hour federal government. They backed off after lobbying by larger trucking companies.