By Kenneth E. Seaton
May 18, 2019
Tragedies often bring out the worst and sometimes, the very best in people. And, sometimes the circumstances that lead up to the tragedy, force people to address issues that could have gone unaddressed for a long time. The Humboldt crash has directed high beams squarely on trucking and the trucking industry.
It has focused keen interest – on what has been and what’s currently going on – on Canadian hi-ways and byways across the country. The initial responses to the tragic accident were to tar and feather the truck driver; however, as time progressed and as realities came to light, it’s clear that there are some serious issues festering within the trucking industry.
There once was a time when being a trucker was considered a good profession! Where drivers could make a pretty decent living as they made a career out of sitting behind the wheel of a big rig. However, nowadays many things have changed. The industry is faced with a severe driver shortage and is often running less experienced drivers in ever more complex rigs.
Trucking companies, fleet owners and by extension – usually drivers with inferior training – are becoming solely fixated on a need for maximizing profits by; going faster for longer periods of time and on doing end runs around government rules and regulations. Sometimes, Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) on trucks were not installed, or were improperly installed or, even ignored or disconnected by someone.
Problematic combinations lacking regulatory rules and laws have conceivably driven the industry towards where it is today. A stumbling government that has often neglected its industry infrastructures and insufficient auditing by Transportation Ministry inspectors has resulted in some in the trucking industry taking over the running of the roads.
Truckers and the Trucking Industry are the Backbone of the Canadian Economy
In 2014 the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) released its Canada Transportation Act Review¹. The report concluded that over 90% of all consumer products and foodstuffs are shipped by truck in Canada. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the for-hire trucking industry was valued at $17 billion, but its impact on the Canadian economy was estimated at $65-billion overall, based on benefits to the economy through sales, jobs and taxes generated by firms and sole proprietors operating in the trucking sector.
At the time of last year’s crash, inexperienced drivers – often with little or no training – could climb behind the wheel of a big rig and head out onto the highways. All that was required, was that they could pass a class drivers exam, and to find a company willing to bend the rules to accommodate their lack of experienced driving skills. In addition, some unregulated and unscrupulous truck driving schools were taking advantage of loopholes that allowed the schools to circumvent provincial oversights and churn out inadequately trained graduates.
Numerous owners and trucking industry experts have been pushing for government recognition that truck driving is a ‘skilled trade’. Official designation status would prove a very progressive step towards promoting driver immigration – permitting the hiring of trained and experienced drivers – as a way of helping to address the looming driver shortage. A change in status would make it more appealing and less complicated for employment consultants and global fleet owners to recruit and hire foreign drivers.
Jean Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) thinks that commercial truck drivers should have the designation of a ‘skilled trade’ and the sooner the better. He maintains that, “This country is dependent on commercial trucking for the transportation of all goods and keeping the economy moving and our most important position is the truck driver.”
Trucking Industry Changes Are Coming
In 2018 Ontario was the only province that required drivers to take a Mandatory Entry-Level Truck driver training (MELT). However, more governments are now getting on- board, as Alberta and Saskatchewan have recently released the initial framework for their own programs.
Manitoba plans to follow their lead and has announced that its own program will begin later this year in September. MELT programs will be required nationwide by the beginning of 2020. The remaining provincial and territorial jurisdictions are currently conducting, or have conducted, reviews of training standards for commercial entry level training.
As of March 2019, Alberta had introduced and implemented new training and operating requirements for trucking companies and their employees. The training requirements were to include:
- Standardized curriculum in all driver training schools.
- Specified hours of training required for in-class, in-yard and in-vehicle.
- Enhanced knowledge and training on professional driving habits, vehicle inspections and airbrakes.
- Increased number of yard and road tests to be conducted.
The Saskatchewan government announced that as of March 15 of this year, transit drivers would need to complete 121.5 hours of training before they’d be eligible for testing on a Class 1 trucking license. Presently, there’s little regulation in Saskatchewan regarding the training of transport truck drivers.
On Jan 21, 2019 the CBC News reported that Transport Minister Marc Garneau made an announcement while attending a transport ministers meeting in Montreal. He declared that, “new regulations for semi-truck driver training will take effect across Canada about a year from now.” Garneau also stated that minimum entry-level semi-truck driver training standards will be developed for next January.
Driver training schools will have to follow and closely adhere to the new standardized curriculum. Local governments will be tasked with ensuring that those who deliver the training will be held to higher standards. Previously, some unregulated truck driving schools were found to have exploited loopholes that allowed them to skirt around some provincial oversights.
In February, several western news agencies reported that numerous agricultural groups had complained to the Albertian government about the newly imposed training requirements. They maintain that training requirements would have unintended consequences for those farmers who were dependent on seasonal labour. Many farmers have also voiced their concerns that the new rules would interfere with spring seeding.
Subsequently, the Alberta government announced that – while it was not granting an exemption to the agriculture industry for the new rules – it would be extending its deadline for farm workers. Those farm workers, who wanted to obtain a Class 1 licence would now have until March 1, 2020 to complete the new mandatory trucker training programs.
Standardizing ELD Rules
As technology rolls along, it is forcing many things to go the way of the Dodo, and truck drivers old fashioned logbooks can be counted amongst them. Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) will soon be required usage for all drivers. As a driver’s tool it is used to document a driver’s Record of Duty Status (RODS).
RODS are used by drivers to prove their compliance of all driver regulator standards i.e. hours behind the wheel, time spent resting between driving shifts and other important information. Drivers must present their up-to-date logbooks for roadside inspection and enforcement officers, fleet mangers, etc.
Many companies and individual drivers are switching over to ELD’s as a more organized and efficient means of tracking, managing and sharing RODS information. Devices can connect with the trucks’ engine and driving time data is transferred directly to the ELD, thus making for an easier and much more accurate method for drivers to keep and record their hours of service requirements.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) released The Impact of Canada’s Regulatory Structure on Small Business² in 2019. In it they reported that, “Based on cost benefits performed in the United States the estimated benefit to Canadian governments and business from switching from paper logbooks to electronic logging devices is 80 million dollars. This efficiency gain is related to reduction of paperwork time/effort leading to more logistical efficiencies for drivers/ small businesses — an increase in $2000 in revenue per driver in Canada.”
A ruling finalizing the requirements for Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) on trucks which drivers must comply with hours-of service rules will be coming soon to the Untied States. Transport Canada has published a first draft of its ELD rules; however, it has not indicated on just when the final regulations would be announced. The regulations would only apply to federally regulated carriers and individual provinces and territories would need to adopt the rules before they are applied to other carriers.
More Tweaks and Revisions Are on the Road
The CTA, along with various other groups, are remaining steadfast in their effort to direct attention towards the need for a trucking-focused immigration program to aid in offsetting the current/looming truck driver shortage. Trucking industry experts are also continuing to urge further government assistance, greater government support and cooperation as it moves towards modernizing the industry. One of its goals is to make the industry more appealing to women and millennial drivers.
Commercial truck drivers are supposed to adhere strictly to hours of service regulations. They must log personal conveyance’s odometer readings and to make the appropriate adjustments, when necessary, from their daily total distance traveled mileage records. Electronic recording devices – like ELDs – should remove some of the wiggle room that is currently being exploited.
With the signing of the new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Canadian truckers and the industry can expect further changes to come when the agreement reaches the ratification stage. With the current forceful promoting of American interests, new regulations changes are sure to have an impact on Canadian drivers, owners and the industry.
¹ Canada Transportation Act Review, Prepared by: CTA. PDF file. Fall 2014
² The Impact of Canada’s Regulatory Structure on Small Business, Prepared by: CTA. PDF file. Feb 2019