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Friday, October 22, 2021

Truck driver training standards expose fatal flaws

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TORONTO — If you’re 18 years old, have a little wanderlust to see this country and make a good salary, it won’t cost much time or money to become a transport truck driver – in some cases less than two weeks and $2,000; you don’t even need a high-school diploma. Not bad to bring in over $70,000 a year.

Sounds great, but for the millions of drivers on the road, it’s scary. The highways across this country are full of transport truck drivers with inconsistent training and inexperience and with a shortage of over 20,000 jobs to haul goods from province to province, many carriers are desperate to hire.

In 2018, the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy cast a dark shadow on Canada’s trucking industry. An inexperienced driver named Jaskirat Sidhu, well educated with a commerce degree, had picked up a trucking job with very limited training. He was looking for a way to earn extra money to support his wife going back to school.

On one of his first solo trips, carrying a massive double load, he ran a stop sign causing a horrific collision resulting in the loss of 16 lives and 13 injuries — all tied to the Humboldt Broncos Hockey Club. W5’s Avery Haines spoke to Sidhu in his first television interview since being sentenced to eight years in prison.

W5's Avery Haines spoke to Jaskirat Sidhu“Humboldt pushed us as Canadians and as an industry to a place which was so uncomfortable where we went. We need to fix this,” said Kim Richardson, who runs a truck training consultancy and is the president of the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario.

Less than a year after Humboldt, pressure on the government resulted in a national set of standards for entry level training called MELT (Mandatory Entry Level Training).

While this made headlines, it made little impact and today, three-and-a-half years after Humboldt, not every province and territory is on board. The industry is not federally regulated and Quebec and the Maritime provinces have been reluctant to replace their already robust but optional training with a mandatory program that is easier with less hours.

This baseline minimum mandatory training requirement which has been adopted in Ontario and all of the Western provinces, has resulted in a surge in truck schools. In Ontario alone there are now 155 schools.

Perhaps the greatest crack in the system is that while the Ministry of Transport is setting the standards, in Ontario it is the Ministry of Colleges and Universities tasked with enforcing them. W5 learned there are just eight staff who are tasked with inspecting over 850 private career colleges in everything from cooking to trucking. They simply can’t keep up.

Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada and he says “there’s an extreme lack of resources in this country, where not enough money is being put in to make sure that rules and regulations are being enforced.”

MELT regulations in Ontario require 103.5 hours of training; 35% in class and 65% in the yard and behind the wheel. Teacher-student ratio is supposed to be 4:1 but W5 has obtained this evidence showing some schools breaking the rules.

Drivers being trained to drive transport trucksIs there a solution? The parents of Evan Thomas, a Humboldt Bronco hockey player who died in the tragic collision on April 6, 2018, want trucking to be federally regulated and for this training to be eligible for Canada student loans.

“Truck drivers need to be educated and regulated like their trades, like electricians and plumbers, airport pilots,” said Scott Thomas.

Responding to the shortage and desperation for drivers, he said, “You need to increase the pool of people who want to be truck drivers. And the best way to do that is train as many as you can, and the good ones are going to get to where they need to be and the ones that aren’t good enough aren’t going to get there.”

Thomas acknowledges that current training doesn’t even touch the vast and difficult landscape that drivers are expected to cross in Canada. Jaskirat Sidhu was driving on narrow unfamiliar rural roads in Saskatchewan when he missed a stop sign killing 16 which hurled a nation into mourning.

“You don’t take a pilot who’s trained in Saskatoon and stick them on a 747 and go tell them to land at Pearson airport. It just doesn’t happen,” said Thomas.

Watch the documentary Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV

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