The Saskatchewan government announced Monday there will be stricter rules and standards for new commercial semi drivers come springtime.
Starting March 15, 2019, anyone who wants a Class 1 trucking license in the province will have to go through a minimum 121.5 hours of training within a standardized curriculum.
The course will include a minimum of 47 hours in a classroom, 17.5 hours of driving in the yard and 57 hours driving out on the pavement.
New drivers will learn about prioritizing basic techniques, professional driving habits, vehicle inspections and air brakes.
Farmers who drive semis for agricultural operations will be exempt from the mandatory training, but will be restricted to driving within provincial borders. People seeking a Class 1 license for farming now have to obtain an “F” endorsement on their existing license; those who already have one don’t have to worry about it.
The province says producers are exempt because they often drive less, and for shorter distances through less populated areas. However, it adds the farm exemption is more of a trial at this time, and the plan is to consult further with the agriculture industry.
Others who already hold a Class 1 license to drive a semi-trailer will be grandfathered in and not have to retrain either.
Starting immediately, SGI will be monitoring new semi drivers more stringently for one year after they qualify for their Class 1 license.
Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave rides up in a semi to the #Sask. Trucking Association to announce new mandatory minimum training requirements for commercial semi drivers in the province. #yqr pic.twitter.com/nRqzvXAQSC
— Jessie Anton (@jessieanton_) December 3, 2018
According to the province, semi driver instructors and training schools will be held to higher standards, and all Class 1 road tests will only be done by SGI examiners.
Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave noted the province has hired several new examiners, who will be learning the fresh curriculum over the next few months.
“It’s all about safety on the highways — not only in Saskatchewan, but throughout Canada. Wherever our drivers are going, we want them to be well trained,” he said. “They need that training, which prevents accidents — statistics show that training will prevent accidents.”
While the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April turned a spotlight on semi driver training standards, Hargrave noted the province had been working to improve them since mid-2017.
“A tragedy like that does bring people to go, ‘Yes, you’re absolutely right — the industry does need to evolve into this,'” Hargrave said. “It made it more clear that we’ve got to get this done.”
When drafting Saskatchewan’s fresh legislation, he added the province consulted with Transport Canada officials, along with others from Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.
“Every province will have certain minimum standards in place, but whether it’s going to be mandatory or not, we don’t know,” Hargrave explained. “Our recommendation is that it’s mandatory.”
Right now in Saskatchewan — as in many other provinces — there’s no minimum training required before someone can take a Class 1 driver’s exam.
Sask. Trucking Association satisfied with changes
The Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA), which represents the interests of the industry, applauded the move to strengthen training requirements.
“With education comes better compliance. In any type of industry, you want to see a skilled worker come with a basic set of knowledge,” STA executive director Susan Ewart said.
She added the classroom component is an important touch.
“There’s a lot more to the industry than just driving a truck,” Ewart said. “The more knowledge and skills we can give to those new drivers on the highway, the better you will see compliance and safety happen.”
Air brake training, she noted, will be a big part of the 121.5 hours of instruction — something that sets Saskatchewan’s legislation apart from places like Ontario, which also has mandatory training.
However, it comes at a price. The province estimates the compulsory training will cost between $6,000 to $8,500 — an increase from the current average of $3,000.
Despite the cost, Ewart doesn’t believe it will deter people from joining the trucking industry.
“I think it does increase that level of professionalism that the industry’s been looking for,” she said.
Veteran trucker welcomes tougher standards
Tougher training standards coming for new truck drivers was welcome news to Dennis Slobodian, who first started driving in 1970.
“But you know something? I’m still learning on probably a weekly to a daily basis. There’s always something new thrown at you,” he said during a stop at a Flying J service station off Idylwyld Drive North in Saskatoon.
Slobodian said, even with decades behind the wheel, being a trucker is more difficult than most people realize.
“It’s a learning experience and you’ve got to be trained properly or else you’re going to be in a world of hurt, and that’s all there is to it.”
— With files from 650 CKOM’s Bryn Levy