The provincial government’s decision to tweak its exemption of some Class 1 and 2 truck drivers from new licensing requirements is a positive signal for families of the Humboldt Broncos players who died in the terrible crash between the team bus and a poorly trained semi truck driver in April 2018.
It is impossible to forget the shock and horror of that crash. The immense and unimaginable tragedy still weighs heavily on many of us, including members of government, who acknowledged this week that the potential for another tragedy to occur makes their plan worth a sober second look.
The issue in question is new rules for Class 1 and 2 truck drivers, which were prompted by the Broncos crash. In March 2019, the former NDP government brought in Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT), which requires 113 hours of training for Class 1 (tractor trailer) licences and 50 hours of training for Class 2 (bus) licences.
MELT has been adopted in the United States, and come Feb. 7, truck and bus drivers will need to have MELT certification in order to cross the border. Similar training requirements exist in several other provinces, including Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
MELT is a necessary step in making our roads safer. However, the idea of exempting some drivers from the program came about because of ballooning wait times for driver testing. Changes made to Alberta’s driver training industry led to an exodus of trainers, and Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver says that exodus has led to road test delays of up to 12 weeks. It is understandable why that is a concern for an agricultural province where farmers have just wrapped up their annual harvest. That was partly why the government decided to extend the deadline for drivers to get trained (which had already been extended by the previous government). The government also looked at grandfathering in 6,800 newly trained drivers under previous licensing rules.
The optics are bad for delayed testing and worse if exemptions occur, but the provincial government no doubt feels a responsibility to its farm workers whose livelihood depends on truck drivers to transport their products. Thus, the UCP has found itself caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.
On the other side of the coin, family members of the 16 people killed in the Broncos bus crash know firsthand the cost of inadequate training for truck drivers. Shauna Nordstrom, who lost her son Logan Hunter in the Broncos crash, and Chris and Andrea Joseph, who lost their son Jaxon Joseph, have been crusading for safer roads and met with McIver this past week.
Following that meeting, McIver said he would implement a two-year probationary period for newly licenced drivers, who also need to have clean driving records. Drivers who receive any infraction during their probation will be required to retest under MELT.
It's a step forward for the Broncos families, although probably not as strong a solution as they would like.
Road safety concerns everyone, and it’s a grim thing to have to weigh potential lives against the cost of backlogs to the farming industry. It's clear something needs to be done, but it's hard to know what the right answer is in this situation. Is a win-win even possible? We don't envy any of the parties involved in these decisions.