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Private Links: Bill 169 could contain a hidden opportunity

There has been a great deal of talk in the industry concerning the shortage of professional drivers. Now that the trucking industry is enjoying a resurgence the issue has become a focal point for carr...




There has been a great deal of talk in the industry concerning the shortage of professional drivers. Now that the trucking industry is enjoying a resurgence the issue has become a focal point for carriers, private and for- hire, on both sides of the Canada/ US border.

I recently spent several days with a group of American carriers who unanimously agreed that the shortage of good drivers remains the number one concern for their operations. They rated this as being of even more concern than dealing with US security and hours of service issues.

And for private fleets in Canada the shortage of professional drivers has been a significant area of concern for the past four or five years as reported in PMTC’s annual survey of private carrier compensation practices. This despite the fact that private fleets as a whole have significantly less driver turnover than the rest of the industry.

Now it wouldn’t be fair to say that nothing is being done, or to surmise that the efforts of a few are not paying some dividends. We applaud the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council and its individual members for their efforts to improve training for entry level drivers and for developing upgrading programs for experienced drivers. But clearly the problem of inadequately trained entry level drivers is still there, and remains to be solved.

There are many side issues that develop when a problem like this exists. For example there always seems to be people who spot a problem and immediately see an opportunity, not to help solve it, but to exploit it. Witness the myriad of ‘schools’ that have popped up whose students regularly fail driving examinations, or whose ‘graduates’ can’t pass a routine road test by a prospective employer. And then there is the group in Alberta that allegedly arranged for fraudulent driver licences and medicals for some of their students, bypassing the need to train them altogether.

But there are those in the industry who understand the problem and are earnestly trying to solve it, as there are training schools that deliver suitable training and have the graduates to prove it. They all deserve credit for their efforts.

And now a recently introduced bill in the Ontario legislature could provide an opportunity to improve controls on commercial driver training schools that don’t currently measure up. The bill contains a number of amendments to the Highway Traffic Act, and while it is a long way from becoming law (having just passed first reading in the House), among the initiatives being proposed there are a few that could help with the overall issue of safety, and more specifically could introduce some mandatory standards to the driver training industry.

For example, the move to bring Ontario’s daily vehicle inspection requirements in line with the National Safety Code standard makes sense, and moves the country a mini-step closer to a real National Safety Code. The introduction of penalties for parts falling from vehicles is a reaction to a limited, yet potentially dangerous or lethal number of instances where heavy parts have fallen from cars or trucks.

But another section of the bill deals with the licensing of individuals to provide instruction for prescribed classes of driving instruction. Specifically, the wording states that “an indivdual shall not provide a prescribed class of driving instruction for compensation except under the authority of a driving instructor licence…that authorizes the individual to provide that class of driving instruction.” And another section reads “The Minister may make regulations prescribing classes of driving instruction for which a driving instructor licence is required.”

Discussions with the ministry and others confirm that this section was designed to deal with instructors for “G” licences, but the wording is certainly broad enough to be interpreted as a requirement to licence instructors who provide training for prospective commercial truck drivers.

The current absence of standards for commercial driver instructors creates a host of problems. Students have no assurance of the level of instruction they are going to receive when they put up their money, and funding agencies seemingly just write the cheque without regard for quality of training.

From a student’s perspective it’s a risk – paying for instruction from someone who may or may not have any form of qualification in the art of teaching. When the instructors are not qualified, the industry is faced with inadequately trained drivers.

There are many good driving instructors who I’m sure would have no objection to meeting a standard. It would be a mark of their professionalism. We all know that there is more to being a good driver instructor than having a track record as a former driver. Perhaps Bill 169 is an opportunity for Ontario to make some real improvements in truck driver training.

-The PMTC is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Your comments are invited and can be addressed to trucks@pmtc.ca


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