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Too young to drive?

Ambivalence colours an assessment of Quebec’s young drivers experiment


MONTREAL, Que. — Take 40 young people aged 17 and 18, put them through Quebec’s top driver training schools, pair them up with transport companies and mentors, and what do you get? Twenty-nine completed the program and some trucks got dinged up, but all things considered, things went very well.

This experiment in relaxing the standard age restriction for getting a Class 1 licence in Quebec began with the recruitment of 40 youth in 2011-2012 to take the 615-hour program at the province’s biggest driver training schools, the Centre de formation du transport routier Saint-Jérôme and the Centre de formation en transport de Charlesbourg.

The plan was for them to study, train, get their licences and hit the road under supervision. The hope was that letting youth make an early career choice as a truck driver would go some distance to easing the looming driver shortage.

The experiment was called the Programme enrichi d’accès à  la conduite de véhicules lourds (enriched access program toward the driving of heavy vehicles), or PEACVL. It wound up in late 2014.

With the results in, whether PEACVL should be expanded is a tricky question. Problems with the participating transport companies and the program structure need to be addressed, but the less malleable reality that drivers in this age bracket are overrepresented in accident statistics makes the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) squirm.

The SAAQ, which calls the shots in Quebec regarding licensing, concluded that, as is, it couldn’t recommend instituting a permanent program like PEACVL; it is, however, not against considering an improved version, a Phase II.

The trucking industry is interested in preserving a PEACVL-like program. It is confident that an improved version could work and benefit the industry.

The students’ performance, summarized in a recently issued report by the SAAQ, seems reasonable for a group of teenagers. Some handled the responsibility well, others partied hearty and didn’t get enough sleep, stress took its toll, and some had a bit too much attitude, whatever the SAAQ means by that. This, and problems adapting to the trucker lifestyle, were thought to be much greater among these students than with adult students.

On the bright side, most of the students showed good technique and the difficulties that they did have – driving technique and administrative work – were not much different than those of other new drivers. In general, the students commented favourably on their mentors. The report concludes that most of the students developed sufficient skills to drive a heavy truck.

Problematic issues included being late for work, not respecting the conditions set by the employer, lack of cooperation, sub-standard driving behaviour, not doing their circle checks and not completing their log books.

And then there were the infractions. There were five accidents and 13 Highway Safety Code infractions while driving a heavy truck. Fifteen Highway Safety Code infractions landed in their personnel files, and three students had their permits suspended or revoked.

Five withdrew before getting their Class 1 due to attitude, two because of a lack of independence and competence operating the vehicle, one because of a difficulty adapting to the work schedule, one for health reasons and one because of a suspended permit.

But not only the young’uns had issues. Most of the companies failed to send in their reports on time and they otherwise had serious paperwork issues. They were largely unprepared to integrate young drivers without any experience and that created difficulties. Some didn’t have enough, or suitable work for their young interns. Bus companies had little interest in taking on these young students because of worries about their insurability and the possibility of an unfavourable public perception.

That said, the businesses were satisfied with how the internships went and enjoyed the experience, on the whole. Many of them showed an interest in doing it again, despite some “unfortunate pairings.” The businesses and the driving schools were upbeat about their involvement in the project and the results of those students who completed the program.

The program itself had some shortcomings. There was serious criticism of the student evaluation tools. The students could have been better informed about the demands of the job. The program was complex and demanding for the schools and the SAAQ staffers involved.

As a first crack at integrating younger drivers into the life, PEACVL seems to have done well. The sample size of students was small, and therefore the SAAQ cautions against drawing too many conclusions.

Asked about a rumour that PEACVL would be expanded to 300 students, SAAQ had nothing to say.

It would only say that discussions with industry representatives are ongoing and a meeting is expected in the next few weeks.


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