The province has announced it will introduce mandatory training for truck drivers starting next year.

Starting March 15, 2019, drivers will need 121.5 hours of training before they are able to take a test to receive a Class 1 licence.

Safer roads through training

Prior to the announcement, drivers could challenge the exam with a regular Class 5 licence. There was training available in Saskatchewan, but it was neither regulated nor mandatory.

The new legislation is meant to make roads safer for both semi-truck drivers and everyone sharing the road with them, the province says.

“Saskatchewan has been working to improve standards for training curriculum and driver testing for semi drivers since mid-2017,” Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance Joe Hargrave said in a written release. “Our ongoing consultations with other provinces have helped address gaps and inconsistencies when commercial drivers cross provincial borders. Stronger training requirements in Saskatchewan and across Canada will help make our province’s and our nation’s roads safer.”

The mandatory training will include 47 hours in the classroom, 17.5 hours in the yard and 57 hours behind the wheel of a truck. It will focus on basic driving techniques, professional driving habits, vehicle inspections and air brakes.

“Everyone involved in the process that led to these new requirements share the same goal, to reduce the number of collisions involving semi-trucks and the number of people hurt and killed in those collisions,” Hargrave said.

Long overdue

Russell Herold lost his 16-year-old son Adam in the Humboldt Broncos crash. He says he agrees with Hargrave that the legislation is long overdue.

“Experience is still the greatest trainer,” Herold said. “So, you can have all the training with an instructor and classroom instruction, but experience behind the wheel is the greatest tool there is.”

Herold added that he would have liked to see the changes come in even sooner.

SGI started looking into changes to truck driver training in the summer of 2017. The plans began before the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, but it brought to light the need for training changes.

“Every industry that we talked to, everybody feels it in their heart what’s happened with that,” Hargrave said. “It brings it to bear that we have to get it fixed.”

“It affected everyone in the trucking industry.”

Getting regulations right

Hargrave said the province knew it was important to get the regulations right.

“It’s all about safety on the highways,” he said. “Where ever our drivers are going, we want them to be well-trained.”

“Statistics show that training will prevent accidents.”

Driving tests will also be changed to reflect the new training, the province says.

Current driving schools will be trained on the new regulations.

“The Saskatchewan Trucking Association applauds this move,” Saskatchewan Trucking Association Executive Director Susan Ewart said in a written release. “The industry is on-board with strengthened training requirements. Commercial drivers play a critical role delivering goods that keep our economy moving. Our industry also has a responsibility to make sure commercial semi drivers have the knowledge and skills to do their job ensuring the safety of everyone on the road.”

Current Class 1 licenced drivers will be grandfathered in after the new rules come into place on March 15.

Increased cost

Current training costs between $2,000 and $3,000. Raising the number of training hours will increase the cost to between $6,000 and $8,500.

Hargrave said the province is discussing possible grants to help cover the cost of the new training. He says he’s contacted the federal minister of transportation to see if the price could be covered under a student loan program.

“Exactly how much it should cost should be looked at and make sure that it’s not keeping people out of the workforce that should otherwise be there,” Opposition leader Ryan Meili said.

Local driving instructor Rana Hameed, who co-owns Skyways Transport, welcomes the changes. The increased hours will help new drivers learn everything they need. He believes some new drivers will need support to cover the additional training costs.

“I’m hoping if the financial institutions, the government and also the employers come in front and help the drivers to get their lessons, I think there will not be any problem,” he said.

Exemption for farmers

There will be an exception for trucks used for agricultural production, since the province says they drive less frequently, over shorter distances and through less-populated areas. Starting March 15, anyone driving a semi-truck for farming operations will need an F endorsement on their existing licence and will be restricted to driving in Saskatchewan.

Herold farms near Montmartre and says he disagrees with the exemption. He would like to see training for farmers operating trucks, even if it was on a slightly reduced level.

“We all share the roads, we all need to be safe,” he said.

Consultation with other provinces

Ontario is the only province that currently has mandatory training of 103.5 hours behind the wheel. Alberta announced that it will bring in mandatory entry-level training next March, but has yet to lay out the total number of hours it will require.

Hargrave said Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and B.C. all worked together on coming up with a basic plan for trucking regulations, but each province is responsible for its own specific regulations.

Herold would like to see training standardized all across the country.

“Drivers go province to province, they cross borders,” he said. “So, you can get a driver with far less training coming into Saskatchewan. It certainly is a start in the right direction, but I think it needs to be standardized across the country.”

Changes to training

Saskatchewan is bringing in a 12-month safety monitoring program for all new semi-drivers, effective immediately. SGI will monitor new drivers more closely for a year after receiving their Class 1 licence to ensure remedial action can be taken for any safety concerns.

The province says it will spend the coming months teaching the curriculum to training schools so they are prepared for March 15.

Once the regulations are fully in place, Class 1 road tests will only be given by SGI examiners. SGI plans to hire examiners to oversee the tests.