Families whose relatives have been killed in crashes involving transport trucks are forming a non-profit organization to push for graduated licensing for new big-rig drivers and to designate trucking as a skilled trade so new operators receive more training before hitting the road.
Pattie Fair, whose husband died in a collision in a mountain pass in British Columbia in 2017, is leading the group and is backed by some families tied to the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which happened in April, 2018.
Sixteen passengers on the hockey team’s bus were killed and 13 more were injured after a semi-truck ran a stop sign at a rural highway intersection in Saskatchewan. The driver of the truck was sentenced to eight years in prison on dangerous driving charges.
Ms. Fair, people tied to the Broncos crash and safety experts have been advocating as a group for stricter training rules for new drivers for years. The new organization, dubbed Safer Roads Canada, formalizes their alliance.
Safer Roads wants Canada to disband its patchwork training system in favour of a national program and hopes its unified front will give it better access to lawmakers and cash to fund lobbying efforts. Safer Roads’ ambition, in part, clashes with the provinces’s current push to implement its own mandatory entry-level training programs for new drivers.
“This needs to be a national system,” Ms. Fair said. “Not provincial.”
There were 1,856 motor-vehicle fatalities in Canada in 2017, according to Transport Canada. Of those, 43 involved tractor trailers. In 2016, 1,899 people died after motor-vehicle crashes and 36 of those involved tractor trailers.
In 2007, there were 2,753 people killed in motor-vehicle crashes, and 46 involved tractor trailers. The semi-truck driver in the Humboldt collision was an inexperienced operator.
The Humboldt bus crash prompted politicians to address training gaps in Canada. Semi-truck operators must hold a Class 1 licence and prior to the Humboldt collision, only Ontario required aspiring drivers to take a training program prior to testing.
Prairie provinces followed suit, creating what are known as mandatory entry-level training programs for Class 1 drivers. The programs, however, vary from province to province and safety advocates argue the training regimes are not stringent enough.
“We’re on borrowed time,” Ms. Fair said. Safer Roads has received support from some corners of the trucking industry, but the group’s most challenging audiences are those in power, she said.
“I’m very disappointed by the lack of support from government," Ms. Fair said. Safer Roads met with Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver a few weeks ago.
Brooklyn Elhard, a spokeswoman for Mr. McIver, said in a statement that Alberta is concentrating on “working with heavy industry drivers to ensure a smooth transition to the new standards. We are open to ways to make truck driving more consistent and accessible across Canada, including by making it a recognized trade, however these discussions are preliminary.”
Stephen Laskowski, the president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said that while Safer Roads’s intentions are well placed, there are better ways of making Canada’s transportation network safer.
“We need to continue to have oversight not just on the whole industry, but with a focus on those carriers that have exhibited problems,” he said. Governments, he said, should work with CTA to address troublesome companies.
“And if we do that, we’ll have much safer roads.”