The problems with our driver training system

by Roger Douthwaite

Recently, a person dropped into the office at Altanic Transportation, looking for a job. He had no appointment, but I chose to interview and road test him. A brief conversation revealed he was from Europe, and had driven truck for a number of years. When he came to Canada, he completed a driver training course, and was able to pass a Ministry road test on his first attempt.

So far, so good. We went out to a truck to begin the road test. My instructions for any candidate are, “Pretend you are coming in to work here. Show me what you would do at the start of your day.” This individual never popped the hood to check fluids. He was completely disorganized, going randomly around the truck and reciting the script he learned at the driving school to pass the Ministry exam.

We proceeded through this “pre-trip inspection,” started the truck, and went to hook up the trailer. He was able to pin the tractor up correctly, and then asked me if he should wind the landing gear up. We continued the “inspection” down the driver’s side of the trailer, again inspecting lights that were not turned on, until we came to the rear axles. At this point he said, “There are no air leaks.” I asked him why there were no air leaks, and when he appeared not to understand, I told him, “There are no air leaks because you have not put air to the trailer.” He ran up to the cab and proceeded to fan the footbrake. I pointed out he did not have the red button pushed in, so no air was going to the trailer. I asked him what happens when you push in the red button, and he said, “you can go.”

“Why can you go?” I asked. He could not tell me. I terminated the road test at this point.

I share all this not to show the deficiency of the individual, but to point out major flaws in our training system. This poor man was sold a bill of goods. He was led to believe that, if he paid his instructor many thousands of dollars, he would get a licence that would get him a job. There was no assessment of his aptitude for the job in the first place. There was no time given to making sure he understood what he was doing. He was taught to memorize a pre-trip inspection script that he could recite to an examiner, without knowing what the components in the script are, or what they look like if they are defective. Yet on the basis of his memory, he was given an A licence.

Responsibility for new driver performance and conduct on the road has been downloaded onto the transport companies. If I had given him the keys to a truck and sent him on a trip, I would be guilty of negligent hiring, even though our government has given him their blessing.

Ontario is now introducing the MELT (mandatory entry-level training) program. MELT will not change a thing. Neither will the new road test guidelines that are being given to the testing centers. The Ministry has standardized the maneuvers a driver must successfully complete: the failing here is that they will not be tested on a maneuver if there is no facility available for the test center to perform the maneuver. Further, there is still no under-the-hood component to the testing, so the pre-trip is a memory test, not a knowledge test.

One of the things that would drastically change the quality of candidates is a screening process. Before enrolling a student, schools should be required to give aptitude tests, so they would be training people who actually have a chance of being successful in the business. There should also be a fail rate. Schools should have the responsibility to tell individuals if they are not suited for this line of work, rather than feed the fantasy with promises of extra help. The truth is, not everyone can be a truck driver.

MELT should include initial training, a Ministry road test that gets you a permit to drive under supervision, leading to several thousand hours of supervised behind-the-wheel experience. The companies doing the apprenticeship should receive subsidies, as happens with trades that currently have apprenticeships.


Roger Douthwaite is director of safety for Altanic Transportation. He has more than 30 years of driving experience and has been safety director for Altanic since 2015.

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  • Because of my background I was pleased and upset and not the least bit surprised to read this post. I have over 50 years in the transport industry. When I was 28, alread with a lot of trucking experience, another fellow and I were selected by Alcan Kitimat to attend a summer course at UBC to learn how to become a “Trainer” When we returned we wrote then administered Training programs for up to 1200 operators of anything that moved in the smelter. Accidents fell from 1 every 3 months to 1 every 3 years and repair costs plummeted ‘way below the cost of the training program. I used my background when I started Pure Water Transport. The problem IS NOT THE DESIRE TO HAVE TRAINED OPERATORS, everyone likes that idea. It is the SHORTAGE OF TRAINERS that have a clear concept what is required. If the industry really wants safety, and, by the way, a well-designed program will not only reduce accidents and improve saftety, it will actually be FREE. On-time deliveries, lower maintenance, lower insurance will pay the entire program. I know. I’m an expert on training.

  • Training schools are like carriers. There are good ones and there are some that leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know what school he graduated from but it sounds like one that will vanish like snow in the spring when MELT is introduced.

    I graduated from a registered driver training school course and it was very comprehensive. I was taught what was under the hood, where it was, what to check and why and how to check it.

    I was taught how to do an inspection routine that was better than the one I learned with the military. The military one was good, the school one just more efficient. I did my inspections under the auspices of my instructor and other students, some were more advanced on the course, others just starting theirs so we learned from each other too. I was expected to state what I was checking, why and what the purpose of that component was. At the end of my inspection the others would be asked if I had missed anything. As I grew more efficient, the list became shorter.

    When I completed my carrier’s road test, I was told by my examiner that the only thing I did not do on my inspection was remove the fuel caps and ascertain fuel levels visually. That I had not been taught at school but had learned that in the military and the reason was the fuel sender could be defective and I could have an empty tank yet the gauge reads full.

    An apprenticeship with a carrier would be good but it can be difficult to toss two total strangers together and have them be together 24/7 for a week and get along. It doesn’t always work. My mentor had quite a few years of experience, I didn’t, so I tended to be a bit more cautious in places. There was times at the end of the day after the third week when we both needed our space. He slept in the tractor, I slept in a lounge chair if I could find one in a truck stop as best I could. By the end of my training with him, I was so depressed and demoralized I couldn’t care less what he wrote on my evaluation forms, I just signed them. I didn’t know at the time what a far reaching effect that would have on me but we just didn’t “click”.

    With that said, I think the ministry road test should be more comprehensive and include under the hood checks, have the candidate tell the examiner what they are looking at and why and what would be a defect. My test consisted of a walk around inspection, dropping the trailer and hooking up. 5 left turns, 5 right turns, distance short highway driving, highway exit and entry, highway lane change and a 90 degree backing into a spot.

    The testing itself needs to be improved and a new driver should be able to have different instructors so there is no personality clashes like I had because of different driving styles.

  • Hi-I was involved in truck training for 10 years in BC. The standard “Government Qualifications” are 24 hours practicum and 16 hours air brake theory? This was implemented in 1971 and stands today! All other “trades” are 4 to 5 years? I have spent 50 years in this industry and literally no changes in that time frame of any progress. The word “PROFESSIONAL” does not apply to trucking world today. Unskilled people are herding commercial articulated equipment on our highways and accidents are a daily occurence.WE NEED CHANGE!

  • Buy a TV – you do some research
    Buy a car – you do lots of research and test drive
    College or University – research, visit the campus, talk to students etc.

    Spend money on training for a new career – no research,don’t ask any questions, do any research; don’t talk to any carriers that hire new drivers; don’t visit, tour or ask questions of training schools – you get what you paid for

    You paid someone to get you an AZ license – that it!

    Every week I see licensed drivers that passed the MTO test – and either can’t find a job or they realize their skills are not good enough. Makes the retraining even more difficult sometimes.

    Yes – MELT will help, but unless the testing required to get a license improves, it simply remains a couple of letters on a license.

    And some responsibility lies with the carriers willing to hire drivers with substandard skills and pay them substandard wages because they know they can’t work anywhere else and then continue to undercut rates.

  • For anyone that want to become a highway driver,there is knowledge to be acquired. Like NAVIGATION not only with GPS but also with actual maps, time managing,fuel managing,sleep managing, weather knowledge and of course how to be safe on the road. To be mechanically incline like looking at a set of tires and knowing what is the air pressure and much more so this should be teached at the school and going onto a training program to complete the requirement.

  • Training and the rules for getting a license in Ontario are now idiotic.. About 5 or so years ago i was off injured fighting WSIB and living on welfare so couldn’t afford the medical or license at the time.. Now it will cost me $8195 dollars so i can get my license back even though i had driven for 20 years without an accident and had already paid $6000 in 1988 the first time.. Someone coming from the equator and often have never seen snow or our weather get the same or less .. The system is seriously screwed up and i wonder how many bus loads will have to die before the law makers realize the drivers that DO care about human life have been forced out of work