truck driving training

EDITORIAL: I’m Proud of the Ontario Trucking Industry, but We Can be Better

By James Steed

Commercial truck driver training and licensing needs to change. And I believe the upcoming consultations led by Prabmeet Sarkaria, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, are a great opportunity to put our best ideas on the table to implement this change.  

I have been the owner of Steed Standard Transport for 24 years and, during that time, have continued to drive. I’m proud to be a truck driver, and I know many of you feel the same. But as our fellow drivers expressed in the recent Northern Ontario Highways Safety Perceptions Survey conducted by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), highway safety issues persist – namely in the northern parts of the province – and as a result, they are seeking improvements to licensing and training standards for all drivers. 

Fleet owners are proud of our industry, professional drivers, and safety record. But we recognize that we must raise the bar on driver training and licensing if we want to improve on what we have achieved in on-road safety performance and create a safe work environment for all. 

 Like many of the professional drivers who responded to OTA’s survey, I often feel there are truck drivers on the road who should have never been hired without additional training. Many are placed in situations which are beyond their current capabilities. The reality is they have a license, but that license does not necessarily mean that they are ready to operate various configurations to the standards required by a safety-conscious fleet. 

Heck, too often I hear that fleet employees are called upon to assist drivers from other companies in backing up trucks at their terminals because the drivers simply can’t do it; or the fleet is too scared to let the poorly trained driver do it because they may damage other trucks, property, or injure someone in the process.

I’m sure many of you can relate to these examples, but the reality is that we, as responsible industry members, alongside our government and truck training partners, must do better.

So, how do we achieve this goal of raising the bar of commercial driver training and licensing together? 

Since being appointed the chairman of the OTA in 2022, I have made this a priority for our Board. Through lengthy discussions, we have concluded that sweeping change is required to achieve our goal of improving highway safety and ensure we have drivers who are prepared to meet these standards. Initially, this shift could decrease the number of drivers entering the industry. However, the drivers being trained to these new and improved standards will be safe, insurable, employable, and ready to move the various configurations required to service the multi-faceted supply chain in Ontario.

To achieve this outcome, we must consider: 

  • Treating the Class A driver’s license like a vocational license
  • Introduce new drivers to all configurations operated in Ontario and support them in becoming safe and proficient operators
  • See to it that the new standards produce drivers that reflect the attributes that responsible fleets, driving schools, and insurance companies want to see in professional drivers
  • Ensure that the oversight of truck training schools and Driver Certification Programs is enhanced 
  • Guarantee that the new system treats professional drivers immigrating to Canada with a ‘Class A equivalent’ fairly, while maintaining the integrity of the standard governing highway safety and vocational standards
  • Make sure certain policies are developed around those who are in Canada on student visas
  • Ensure that provincial and federal training dollars are made available to the carrier community to support the onboarding of these new drivers
  • Establish low-interest government loans for future drivers to go through this system

The Ontario Trucking Association has been developing plans to address these issues and is prepared to engage in this consultative process launched by Minister Sarkaria. This is an important time for all sectors involved, and we look forward to working with this government to ensure Ontario will have the safest, most efficient trucking industry in the world. 

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