Fault has not yet been assigned in the stunningly horrible crash that stole the lives of 16 Humboldt Broncos hockey club members and, while I have ideas, I won’t engage in conjecture as to what went wrong on April 6.
Inevitably the discussion has turned to driver training and the shameful fact that only Ontario has made it mandatory, though not until last year. The public is outraged, and I can’t blame them. Many driving instructors are also angry about the reality of inadequate training. They’re right to be critical. Hell, it wasn’t so long ago that you could take the road test for your Ontario Class A licence with a pickup truck pulling a fifth-wheel horse trailer out back. Ludicrous.
Saskatchewan Government Insurance has been talking about a minimum 70-hour training course in an unspecified mix of classroom and on-the-road instruction. Not enough, I’d say. Over the years we’ve seen course curricula that went into the hundreds of hours but were ultimately judged impractical. Way too expensive, and who would pay? But I want 120 hours regardless.
I go back almost 40 years to the plight of my trucking mentor, Merv Orr, who ran a very good driving school and offered a three-week course that wasn’t cheap but could be managed. He was undercut by other schools doing it for less and in less time, and ultimately he got out, essentially defeated by everyone from students to carriers who didn’t want anything more than the licence itself.
Among his chief frustrations was the Ontario government’s unwillingness to take truck driver training seriously. Merv lobbied endlessly to create a real curriculum and to have real standards applied to the schools. He lost, but four decades later the province finally saw the light. Quite incredibly, it’s alone.
Provincial governments should be comprehensively ashamed of themselves for leaving it to the industry to create an adequate training regime, but I think we should be equally ashamed for not having picked up the cudgel. Yes, there are many, many excellent in-house training programs and some fleets have even invested in driving simulators. Few can afford that sort of outlay, however, and so they do the best they can with driving school graduates. But what does anyone learn in a week or two of instruction? The onus is then on the employer to finish the job. Trouble is, too often they don’t.
A few years back my own nephew decided he would become a truck driver, took the best course he could find, and quickly found himself a job with a sizeable and very reputable carrier. He was the ideal candidate — a gearhead, a very capable driver, smart and eager and ready to work. A trainer rode shotgun on his first two trips and then he was on his own. Two weeks in, and massively unprepared, he was pulling heavy B-train flats through the hilliest parts of two-lane Quebec. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near such a rig on such roads, would still have been driving a local straight truck in an ideal world. He was good at it, thankfully, but that carrier clearly just needed a warm body in the seat and never considered the calamity quotient of having a rookie on that run. The frustrations grew from there and the kid left trucking within two years. Sadly typical, I’m afraid.
The thing about proper training is that it makes the driving job legitimate, makes it seem like something worth doing. Our ability to attract new recruits will only increase if a strong training regime is in place. But then we have to follow up and insert the newbies onto the dispatch board intelligently while we ensure their training continues.