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Opinion: Governments failing us when it comes to driver training

Posted: December 2, 2019 by Rolf Lockwood

Driver training should not be the huge problem that it is. It just shouldn’t. If we were truly serious about it, we would have resolved the issue decades ago. Yet here we are, needing the Humboldt tragedy to focus our collective mind on solutions. And even with that impetus, we’re really nowhere close to doing it right.

Yes, Ontario launched its MELT (mandatory entry-level training) program in 2017, and I applaud them for it – with a qualification which I’ll get to in a minute. But it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough, demanding “at least 103.5 hours of instruction [to] cover the entry-level knowledge and skills needed to safely operate a large truck.” Fine, but 103.5 hours is inadequate, though I think some driving schools have expanded on that. It’s assumed that carriers will add to it with additional training as well. But many of them can’t find trainers to work with new entry-level drivers. So do they not hire? Or do they let them go out less than fully trained?

Post-Humboldt, the feds jumped on that bandwagon, demanding that all provinces adopt a MELT regime. But my cynical mind says that was essentially a public relations stunt, an easy way for Ottawa to appear responsive in the face of enormous public pressure. And even then Alberta first chose to exempt farm-vehicle drivers from the MELT requirement, demonstrating what I see as a gross lack of commitment to the whole idea of training for safety. Thankfully, public outrage made them reverse that dumb decision.

But hold on, let’s not congratulate anybody too enthusiastically for the MELT idea. Ontario did put it in motion, and I’m glad they did, but why did it take them until 2017? Almost 40 years ago I was part of an effort to make the province’s ministries of education and transport see the light and allow both a proper course to be created and a system of regulating and monitoring training schools to apply it. The proposal went nowhere, starved of government support or funding.

The province’s actual commitment to highway safety is at best suspect in light of the Ford government’s recent refusal to improve winter highway maintenance on highways 11 and 17 through northern Ontario, as reported in early November by the CBC. A private member’s bill – put forward by Muskegowuk-James Bay NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin — was voted down at Queen’s Park.

“Bourgouin wanted to have those highways reclassified so they would have been maintained under the province’s strictest requirements for snow removal, making them the same as the 400 series highways and the QEW, where snow must be removed within eight hours of the end of a snowfall,” said the CBC.

Those highways have become notorious for truck-related accidents – and fatalities – so much so that seasoned veteran drivers are literally afraid to drive them. Poorly trained rookie truck drivers are usually to blame, I keep hearing. That’s anecdotal evidence but those roads are dangerous at the best of times. Add snow to the mix and they’re deadly.

Getting back to MELT, do you think the feds have ever been serious about highway safety if it took the horror of Humboldt to get them even a little involved? And even then, they took a lazy way to join the effort, just latching on to an existing idea. The problem of inadequate training is hardly a new one, after all. I guess they’re just that far removed from the trenches of trucking. Which ain’t news.

And now we have another problem. The Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) says that instructor qualifications are “less than adequate” for the MELT standard.

“There are really very limited requirements for a person to become a commercial driving instructor and zero formal education requirements,” says association president  Kim Richardson.

We’re not in good shape.

 

 

 

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