KANANASKIS, Alta. – Mandatory entry-level training (MELT) is not the only initiative the Alberta government has implemented to help improve safety on provincial roads. Changes have also been made to Alberta’s driver examiner road test model, as well as its pre-entry program for new National Safety Code carriers.
Terry Wallace, executive director of driver programs for Alberta Transportation, told Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) Leadership Conference and AGM attendees April 27 that though these efforts were being looked at prior to the Humboldt tragedy last April, the incident pushed each of them to the top of the priority list.
“We were here a year ago and world changed,” said Wallace. “Everything seemed to take on a different twist after that accident.”
Wallace said he was particularly pleased with changes to how new Class 1 drivers will be examined.
In 1993, Alberta’s road test examination model was privatized, meaning examiners operated their own business to test hopeful drivers. This resulted in several issues that came to light in 2016 after the government reviewed the process. One issue was that examiners were automatically failing drivers during their first and sometimes second road tests in an effort to make more money.
What examiners were expecting from drivers taking their road tests, and the rates they charged for the test, were inconsistent, and as Wallace said, there was not enough oversight to keep the public’s trust that they were receiving a fair test.
As of March 1, Alberta’s road test model is again a publicly-run system, with standardized expectations and set rates, regardless of where the test is taken in the province.
The new program also increased oversight and training of driver examiners, brought in a tablet-based solution for testing, and an online road test scheduler.
Some examiners who were running a private road test business were brought into the government system. About half, however, did not make the transition. Wallace said in many cases examiners were going from making anywhere from around $170,000 to over $200,000 a year operating privately compared to the government’s $70,000 salary for doing the same job publicly.
MELT is also expected to go a long way in improving safety on Alberta roads.
Following the Humboldt incident, Wallace said it became evident that “in some cases it was just way too easy to get a Class 1 licence.”
Wallace said Alberta’s program is based on Ontario’s, but there was also collaboration with Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“I wanted this as harmonized as we could and to make it seamless,” said Wallace, underscoring how all the MELT programs mandated in Canada are closely aligned within a few hours of each other.
He added that because of this alignment, there is now a proposed national entry-level standard for driver training, which will be based on current provincial programs.
Alberta did, however, experience a slight hiccup in how it implemented its MELT program. In an effort to dissuade aspiring Class 1 drivers from rushing to take their road test before stricter standards came into effect, any driver who obtained their Class 1 between Oct. 1, 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019 would have to retake the test.
The thought behind this, as Wallace explained, was that drivers wouldn’t bother trying to beat the deadline because they would not want to retake their road test.
This turned out not to the case, as there are now around 5,800 Class 1 drivers who will need to retake their road test.
Trudy Nastiuk, left, and Terry Wallace.
Trudy Nastiuk, executive director of Alberta’s safety and compliance services branch, provided an update on the provinces pre-entry program for new carriers, which was the first of the three safety initiatives to be implemented Jan. 1.
New carriers are now required to complete a free online safety and compliance course, pass a knowledge test, and undergo a new carrier compliance review within the first year of getting their Safety Fitness Certificate (SFC).
All carriers are also required to renew their SFC every three years. The province also will no longer be handing out temporary certificates during a carrier’s first 60 days of operations while they work toward a permanent SFC.
“That was identified very quickly as a weakness,” Wallace pointed out.
The government is still determining if the SFC renewal process and requirements for carriers will be the same as when they initially obtain the certificate.