Truck driver training rule changes under fire

Families whose loved ones died or were seriously injured in the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy left the legislature yesterday still feeling frustrated with Alberta’s trucker training rules.

The United Conservative Party government and opposition NDP had an emergency debate over the issue for nearly two hours, but little changed in terms of how the government plans to address exemptions.

“There is a lack of clarity, lack of transparency and a lack of commitment. That’s what it is at the end of the day,” said Pattie Fair, who lost her husband, Stephen Babij, in a head-on collision with a semi in 2017.

“I don’t have many more answers walking away than when I came here,” she said.

Sixteen people were killed and 13 others seriously injured in April 2018 when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign and struck a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver has said he is considering whether some drivers who have Class 1 licenses will still need mandatory training, but his answers aren’t sitting well with families or the opposition.

The drivers that might be exempted include a group of 6,800 people that were caught in transition of the new training legislation. They had their Class 1 or 2 licenses but would have been required to take mandatory training under the previous rules.

The UCP changed that, allowing them to keep their licenses and not take training if they have clean driving records.

During the debate, McIver told the legislative assembly he won’t make a decision on whether training will be required for some in the transition group.

He apologized to the Broncos families for not having a decision and that he understands their concerns.

Following the debate, he told reporters all new drivers after March 1, 2019, will need mandatory training before getting their Class 1 license.

However, this means some in the transition group won’t need mandatory training, as long as they have a strong safety record. It isn’t clear yet what the province will consider a strong safety record.

Under the previous NDP government’s rules, these new drivers would have been required to have mandatory training, which is a key problem for the NDP and families who lost loved ones to the collision.

As well, extensions for mandatory training remain a sticking point.

McIver said extensions for needing mandatory training for some drivers will remain in place.

For instance, farmers and farm workers who have been granted an extension have until March 1, 2021, to meet training and testing requirements for a Class 1 licence.

New school bus drivers granted an extension have until July 31, 2020, to meet requirements for a Class 2 licence.

However, some farmers and school bus drivers fall under the transition group, meaning they might not be required to take mandatory training if they have clean records.

Under the previous rules, all new farmers and school bus drivers had until March 1, 2020, to get their mandatory training no matter what. Those who had their Class 1 before mandatory requirements were grandfathered into the system.

Moreover, all other new drivers would have been required to have mandatory training by now, Notley told reporters.

“It’s certainly not a change from where we were before and leaves a lot of loopholes in place,” she said.

During the debate, NDP leader Rachel Notley called on the government to offer grants to school boards if costs are a concern, suggesting safety and lives should come before budgetary constraints.

Pattie Fair, who lost her husband Stephen Babij to a head-on collision with a semi, speaks during an announcement calling on the UCP government to not exempt some drivers from requiring mandatory training. | Jeremy Simes photo

Families also want to know what constitutes a clean driving record for the drivers who don’t need mandatory training.

“The driver (who collided with the Humboldt Broncos bus) had a clean record for three weeks and ran a stop sign, killing 16 and injuring 13, and shattering people’s lives,” said Andrea Joseph, who lost her son, Jaxon, in the Humboldt crash.

“Do these 6,800 have a clean record? What constitutes that? It’s frustrating,” she said.

“I’m not mad at him (the minister). I’m mad at the driver and the trucking company.”

Prior to the debate, families affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy joined the NDP in calling on the UCP government to roll back changes to exemptions.

Family members said their concerns are not about politics but about ensuring Canada’s roads are as safe as possible and that people’s lives are put before saving on costs.

“This isn’t about NDP versus UCP, this is about safety,” said Shaylyn Hunter, whose brother, Logan, died in the crash.

“The longer we discuss this issue, the longer inexperienced drivers are on the road and another person could lose their life,” she said. “My brother was 18, and he didn’t get to do a lot of the things my sister and I are going to do.”

Following the tragedy, some provincial governments across Canada brought in mandatory safety training for new drivers looking to get their Class 1 and 2 licenses.

Fair has brought forward a petition to Parliament that would make training a federal responsibility and a trade.

Shauna Nordstrom, mother of the late Logan, said the government needs to realize it can’t waste a day in ensuring new drivers have training to ensure safety.

“We’ve got to get moving,” she said.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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