In last month’s column, I suggested that truck driving schools should be forced to follow a legislated, standardized curriculum in an effort to cultivate a safer crop of new drivers. However, there is still an unofficial feeder system of...
In last month’s column, I suggested that truck driving schools should be forced to follow a legislated, standardized curriculum in an effort to cultivate a safer crop of new drivers. However, there is still an unofficial feeder system of drivers that don’t use driving schools.
I, and many others, learned the old-fashioned way, starting with relatively small construction companies, graduating from tandem dumps to tri-axle dumps to tandem trailers and finally to multi-axle trailers. This was done strictly after gaining complete proficiency and with the right old-school mentors, the approach still works.
So how do we properly assure that these drivers – as well as driver school graduates and new immigrants – are properly moved upward through the system? The answer is graduated licensing, combined with making it a lot more difficult to attain a commercial licence in the first place. Graduated licensing has been a reality for young car drivers for over a decade, and I believe it is a necessity for our industry. Besides creating a process where drivers and their employers are able to more closely monitor progress, it creates a level playing field, so employers of all sizes have the ability to hire new drivers.
Start with the actual driving test. Although a major loophole was closed in the ’90s (no more pick-up trucks with horse trailers), we still need to increase the size of the test vehicle. A road test should be conducted with a tandem tractor, 228-inch minimum wheelbase, with either a bunk or the rear window covered. A loaded trailer should be required, so that the test vehicle grosses at least 65,000 lbs.
Automatic or automated transmissions should not be eligible. The road test should involve stopping at the bottom of a hill, then climbing to speed again, demonstrating the ability to utilize every gear in the transmission. Downshifting through several gears at some point of the test should be mandatory.
When you have completed your driving test, step inside. A bench-mounted, cutaway trailer suspension should be available for the applicant to not only name all the brake components, but explain their operation. This would show an understanding of the air brake system that the current multiple guess written test doesn’t measure.
Once you have passed your driving test and brake demonstration, and paid your fees – I strongly recommend $200 minimum for an initial test to eliminate those who are really not serious – you would be given a Level 1A licence, good for single trailers with a maximum gross of 45,000 kgs.
A heavier GVW would only be allowed on provincial highways, not Trans-Canada or 400-series highways, with a mentor present (not in the bunk, either). No tanks or HazMat would be permitted under this licence. After you complete 50,000 safe driving miles, in a minimum of eight months, you could then apply for a full A licence, which would allow you to drive the maximum GVW of 63,500 kgs, and trains.
Sorry, but my graduated licence plan doesn’t stop there. We need to also institute a special licence endorsement to pull tankers, as is already a reality south of the border. I’ve driven nearly every configuration and type of freight available, and I still wouldn’t feel comfortable pulling a tank, so let’s stop making it so easy. At minimum, a detailed written test should be required.
Dangerous goods, or HazMat certification is currently conducted by the employer, something I feel is a disaster in the making. Am I the only one who has been handed a test and handbook, while the employer whispers that the answers are glued to the back page? Didn’t think so. What about the legal grey area created when agency drivers are tested by the agency, not the carrier? If you want to haul hazardous, get your chequebook out again at the test facility and write a government-sanctioned test…and repeat the process every three years.
This may sound a little too costly for some, to which I say: suck it up. I am tired of sharing the highways with underqualified, careless and dangerous drivers. In an industry otherwise so heavily regulated, why should anyone be able to attain a licence in the morning with a single-axle tractor and empty trailer, then hit the highway that afternoon with a 600-hp unit grossing 60,000 kgs? Every year I am besieged with applicants either recently graduated from a driver school, or several years into a career with a major carrier. Most of them make me cringe at their complete lack of caution and ability.
Maybe I’m alone in saying that I think that a driver shortage is a preferable problem to having 20% of our driver pool operating only one rabbit’s foot away from causing a catastrophe.
One more thing needs to change about our licensing system. I have held an A licence since 1989 and have yet to be retested on a road test. Under current law, I won’t be. My reflexes and reaction time are not what they were over 20 years ago, and I doubt that will improve with age. I don’t believe it is unreasonable to expect any professional driver to re-establish his/her expertise every 10-12 years.
As involved as this pipe dream sounds, we need to make a decision. Is this industry content to jam highways with upside-down trucks, albeit with lower paid help and an abundance of available labour, or are we ready to raise the bar so only the best become drivers, not just the best available?