Lorraine Complains: Alberta easing trucking regulations is a recipe for disaster
|driving.ca 14 Oct 2019 at 07:33|
Most of us had never heard of the Saskatchewan city of less than 6,000. After a violent crash in April 2018 between a semi and a bus claimed the lives of 16 people and forever changed the lives of countless more, most of us will never forget it.
The driver of the rig, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, plowed through a stop sign, hitting the bus full of hockey players and team personnel, is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty.
He’d been driving a semi for three weeks at the time of the crash; his training had consisted of two weeks with someone in the truck with him, and the last week on his own. New regulations “significantly expanded the amount of classroom and practical training for new drivers piloting semis and buses, added higher fees and introduced stricter written and road tests,” as reported in the Globe & Mail.
The crash highlighted the lack of driver training and oversight, and three provinces – Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba – tightened regulations in the industry as a result. Families of those killed and injured vowed not to let governments backslide on a commitment to making sure it never happened again.
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Previously, only Ontario had mandatory driver training for semi drivers, though many independent companies do have rigorous training in place. Earlier this year, those other three provinces announced new training regulations, and by 2020, the federal government will require training across the country.
Now, with the turn of a new government in Alberta, that province has once again relaxed training of those piloting semis for agricultural use, and for school buses. The outcry was instantaneous, with parents of those who lost children incensed and taking to social media.
Toby Boulet, of Lethbridge, Alberta, lost his son Logan in the horrific crash. He has been outspoken in pushing for better training for those drivers like the one who took his son’s life. He is enraged at the news his province is considering exemptions for farm workers and school bus drivers.
The original exemption made sense, to give those sectors time to get caught up. Saskatchewan and Manitoba did the same thing. But now, these exemptions in Alberta are stretching into 2020, and beyond.
Bernadine and Toby Boulet, parents of the late Humboldt Broncos hockey player Logan Boulet, pose at their home in Lethbridge, Alta. on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. David Rossiter / Canadian Press
CTV reported on October 2 that Alberta’s minister of transportation, Ric McIver, said “a review is underway but it’s still ‘too early’ in the process to have even started consultations.” By October 8, the Globe & Mail was reporting it was a done deal. McIver’s office issued a statement running over some of the licensing changes, including this bit: “Regarding farm workers and school bus drivers, the NDP Government first issued an extension, which the current government then extended to accommodate the start of the school year and harvest. The government will be consulting with key stakeholders on this matter, and safety will remain paramount.”
It’s that paragraph that has Boulet, and many others, incensed. Using only vague terminology and saying “” there is no promise from the government that continual exemptions won’t lead to permanent ones. Reverting to previous standards, deciding they’re good enough for school kids, and also deciding a semi isn’t a semi if it isn’t being driven very far, will be met with harsh backlash.
Basically, members of the agricultural sector of that province were pushing back against the new mandate. Farmers wanted to know why their drivers needed weeks of expensive new training to essentially be driving from field to field. Same with school bus drivers. The new training (before MELT – “mandatory entry level training” – there were no training requirements) requires substantial time and money investment.
Boulet is concise. “If there is to be a compromise, it can only be economic, not safety. Create subsidies or tax breaks for those who require them,” he says. “But a human life is not equivalent to a load of grain, and those vehicles all share the road. Mr. Sidhu was not trained, but he was only the head of the snake.”
A memorial for the 2018 crash where 16 people died and 13 injured when a truck collided with the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus, is shown at the crash site on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 in Tisdale, Saskatchewan. Ryan Remiorz / Canadian Press
Previously Class One drivers (tractor trailer) and Class Two drivers (bus) were all included in new, stricter rules brought into effect in March of 2019 through MELT. Farm drivers and school bus drivers were initially given an exemption to compliance until November 30 and July 30 of this year, respectively. That has now been extended an additional year, into July 2020 for school bus operators; and March 2021 for farmers. With last week’s announcement, those drivers would be only subject to an as-yet-unspecified abstract review.
David Ham lives in Abbotsford, B.C. and retired two years ago after a 40-year career driving big rigs. He’s witnessed a sea change in not just the trucking industry, but also in the public’s response to drivers in general.
It’s a backdoor loophole that could allow far less rigorously trained drivers on Alberta’s roadways
In his view, the industry invites rigorous oversight and regulation.
“The public is poorly served by lack of accountability,” he says. “Even if there are allowances made for seasonal drivers, like those for harvest, I don’t see why that would exempt people. Training is training is training.”
A combine waddling down the road between concessions is not a semi. Ham has relevant experience: he started driving a silage truck on a farm in Alberta when he was 14.
Ham’s concern with the exemptions is warranted. Buried in the proposed changes to ease up on those two classes of drivers is the real kicker, from the G&M report: “Drivers with Class 1 and Class 2 licences who received farming or school-bus exemptions will be eligible to keep their commercial licences without taking the enhanced safety tests. Instead, Alberta will evaluate driving records and waive tests for drivers who regulators deem safe; after that, the drivers would have full commercial licences that would not be restricted to farming or school-bus driving.”
The emphasis is mine. It’s a backdoor loophole that could not only create a non-level playing field for commercial drivers, but that could also allow far less rigorously trained drivers on Alberta’s roadways.
A member of the the Boulet family looks on during the Humboldt Broncos memorial service at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan on Saturday, April, 6, 2019. Liam Richards / Canadian Press
McIver’s office keeps indicating the former NDP government created the problem by dismantling Alberta’s privatized licensing system, and created a backlog of drivers waiting to be tested. Every government blames the last, but Toby Boulet and David Ham, both in constant contact with many parts of the trucking industry, make the point there is a glut of qualified drivers looking for work. And if ever there was a need for an overhaul of the licensing system, this explosive exposé by the Globe & Mail reveals it.
The last word goes to Toby Boulet. “We want to be focused on our work with organ donation advocacy, taking care of our daughter Mariko and grieving for our son Logan. This change in law for better driver training was already solved.”