By Andy Labdon
Saskatchewan seems to be the only place in the world where driving licences are handed out on a silver platter, and it shows in the depressing statistics.
Maclean’s crunched the numbers of casualties per 100,000 people in each province and Saskatchewan came out on top. SGI released its figures last week for the October 2018 Traffic Safety Spotlight. Police handed out a total of 793 distracted driving offences, including 688 cell phone tickets and 105 tickets for driving without due care and attention. That’s the highest number of distracted driving offences ever reported in a single month in the history of Traffic Safety Spotlights. On Nov. 21, a volunteer firefighter was killed by a semi while attending a scene of another accident involving semis, and on the carnage will go, unchecked.
Trucking is a massive industry in Saskatchewan as was shown when Scott Moe made his bid for the party leadership at Q-Line Trucking in Saskatoon back in 2017. According to the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA), “The United States is Saskatchewan’s most significant export destination; it is also the most significant importer. The movement of these goods relies heavily on truck transport, with 80% of merchandise trade being moved by truck. It is estimated that over 90% of all consumer products are shipped via truck; the trucking and warehousing industries directly employ 15% of Saskatchewan’s 1.1 million residents; is estimated that each truck on the road pays over $60,000 per year in taxes.”
Ever since the Humboldt bus crash, there have been calls to tighten up legislation when it comes to training truck drivers. To date not much has been done. But with the figures presented by the STA, maybe intervention or change to the industry would be prohibitive and costly, but something needs to be done.
While both Ontario and Alberta have already moved forward with mandatory truck driver training, SGI Minister Joe Hargrave has said that his government is focused on building consensus on regulatory changes across western Canada, but has declined to voice any support for mandatory trucker training, raising questions around whether Saskatchewan itself is the holdout voice on mandatory trucker training.
“This is about safety on Saskatchewan highways,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “Legitimate concerns have been raised about drivers getting their licence without having undergone any training, and people are looking to this government to act.”
I took the semi driving test in Saskatoon back in December 2005 and, compared to the UK test, it’s as relaxed as Prince Andrew’s official engagement schedule. It did nothing to prepare me – an experienced driver with a million European miles under the belt – for Canadian driving conditions, rules and regulations. I saw numerous drivers with less experience fall victim to crashes and accidents.
I first took my semi-truck, or HGV ( Heavy Goods Vehicle), in the UK back in the early eighties. It was a two-week, eight-hour day, intensive course that cost $1200 ($2,030 Canadian) and in today’s money would be $8275 Canadian.
If I took my test in the UK today, it would take 13 weeks of training from being a car driver to earning a living driving a semi. I would have to pass a test in a 32-tonne rigid vehicle before I could progress to take the HGV Class 1 LGV C+E, or semi licence.
Here in Saskatchewan none of that applies. An inexperienced person can take a week’s course at the cost of around $2800, pass the test, and off they go. Alternatively, for a more comprehensive course, pay just over $6000 for a 15-day course. Or, apply for the test and hope to pass.
I feel the training given to new drivers is atrocious, and the lack of will, vision, or need to do anything is as equally appalling. After driving in every country in Europe, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe, I found that the U.S. and Canada were probably the most dangerous for a truck driver due to the number of accidents and lack of training for new drivers.
Follow Europe’s training schedules and lives will be saved.