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opinions Rolf Lockwood

Plenty of talk, little action on driver training

Posted: March 13, 2019 by Rolf Lockwood

Man, I am so fed up with the utterly endless discussions about driver training in this country. I’ve heard the mostly empty chatter for 40 years now, with precious little to show for all the wear and tear on my ears.

Sure, back in the 1990s we had Earning Your Wheels, the first and so far only attempt to produce a national standard for training entry-level drivers, with curriculum attached. It was developed by smart people at the industry’s request by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, which later morphed into Trucking HR Canada. And it was good, though not mandatory.

Sadly, practicality wasn’t part of the mix. Or perhaps the developers simply over-estimated the industry’s willingness to spend money on the task of developing fully competent drivers. Both, I guess.

It was a heavy course — 255 hours’ worth, plus a further 100 hours of supervised workplace assessment. It was pretty much everything we wanted, and would have made a “professional” designation actually mean something, which we need badly. But it was too long, thus too expensive for either fleets or individual students if they couldn’t get some sort of grant, and it fell by the wayside. I have no idea how many students took the course and graduated, but I believe only six schools were ever accredited to deliver it. It cost something like $13,000 back then, which was a lot of dough. Even now, a good course is maybe $5,000 cheaper.

In the years that followed, absolutely nothing happened except the unfettered growth of irresponsible licence mills. Fast forward to 2017 and we finally got Ontario’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program that sets minimum standards like 103.5 hours of classroom and truck time. Alberta has since followed suit and the program seems to have become the model for other provinces to follow. But 100 or so hours are not enough, many observers say, me included.

And not soon enough, I say. I was a small part of an effort way back in 1980 to create standards for Ontario driver-training schools along with a training curriculum. The province’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities didn’t want to know. Nor did it want to police existing training facilities, so schools were effectively free to do whatever they wanted. Some tried to do a decent job, and some succeeded, while many others prepared people for the written and road tests and nothing more. It was no different elsewhere in the country.

But now, in the wake of the Humboldt horror – where driver training played a role – we finally have national chatter about what skills our drivers should have and how they should get them. I’m ashamed for our industry and our political leaders that it took such a tragedy to get the needle moving. Again.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced last year that a national entry-level training standard for commercial drivers would be in place by January 2020, to become part of the National Safety Code. It’s a good first step, but it’s fraught with weaknesses. As editor John G. Smith pointed out recently, the feds don’t have the regulatory muscle to make anything mandatory because training is a provincial matter. So good old Balkanized Canada will produce… um, what?

Frankly, I think we need to do more than demand adequate driving skills. We also need to ensure that trainers themselves can do the job and that road-test examiners are licence-holders. That awful crash in Saskatchewan also showed that carriers need training just as much as anyone else. Enforcement at that level is weak at best, so we clearly can’t rely on it. Let’s start earlier and make it harder to put trucks on the road.

Drivers don’t deserve to take the whole rap.

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