Why you need to worry more than ever about those big rigs on B.C. highways | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why you need to worry more than ever about those big rigs on B.C. highways

This truck driver passing on a double solid line is just one example of the increase in bad truckers in B.C. and why everyone needs to be cautious around these big rigs.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/@vishalkhehra94

Just because the Coquihalla Highway has re-opened to truck traffic doesn’t mean the quality of drivers of those big rigs has improved on B.C. highways.

The torrential downpours on Nov. 15 closed all four highways between the Interior of B.C. and the Lower Mainland. Two weeks later, Highway 3 (the Hope-Princeton) reopened for essential traffic only and the bad behaviour and lack of training by many truck drivers became obvious.

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: Drone footage showcases scale of work done to reopen Coquihalla

“This whole highway closure thing has shown us that, it appears there’s a different quality of driver that runs Highway 3 than runs Highway 5 (Coquihalla)," Andy Roberts, the owner of Mountain Transport Institute in Castlegar, told iNFOnews.ca. “I think I’ve always kind of known that in back of mind but I think this shut down really showed it to us that a lot of people are not trained to deal with a technical highway like the Hope-Princeton.”

READ MORE: Kamloops truck driver's advice: Don't take Highway 3 for your Christmas break

It’s one thing to drive a tractor trailer up the four to six-lane Coquihalla and quite a different thing to take that same rig through the twisting, hilly, mostly two-lane Hope-Princeton. It was often closed, sometimes for hours, because of crashes during the three weeks it was the only truck route to the coast.

One trucking firm has been shut down for an audit after a driver was caught on a web cam passing on a solid double line on Highway 5A from Princeton to Merritt.

READ MORE: iN VIDEO: Dangerous driving on B.C. highway lands national trucking

"That’s a conscious decision, in my mind, to break the law and to use your truck as a weapon and bully your way through traffic,” Roberts, who has been training truck drivers since 2003, said. “That driver should have his licence taken away for a long period of time because he has taken the risk that could kill somebody.

“I can’t say for sure but, I believe, their mentality is that, if somebody comes around the corner, they’re going to move over, the person beside me is going to move over and I’m going to fit down the middle because nobody wants to have a crash and they’re willing to take that risk. Yes the carrier should be investigated as part of that event but I think the person that made the conscious decision to obviously make an unsafe pass is the one that needs the immediate penalty of losing their driver’s licence. Once drivers hear they’re going to lose their licence for five years and they can’t make any money then, maybe, they’ll smarten up. But as long as they get away with it and have a small ticket or something like that, then it’s going to continue to go on and it just might get worse.”

READ MORE: B.C. trucker with 46 driving infractions gets 3 years jail for fatal crash

Part of the problem is that there has never been a national training standard for transport truck drivers who need a Class 1 licence.

Many years ago, drivers could buy a chauffeur's licence and be legally allowed to drive anything.

Standards improved but, still, some training schools simply had students drive the route they were going to be tested on over and over again for 20 hours, Roberts said. Once licensed, they could drive anything and anywhere.

That all started to change in 2018 when an inexperienced driver ran a stop sign and crashed into the Humboldt Broncos hockey team's bus, killing 16 and injuring 13 others.

READ MORE: Sentencing judge in Broncos crash calls for carnage on highways to end

That didn’t trigger a national standard. Even though much of the trucking industry is regulated federally, it’s up to provinces to do the licencing.

Some provinces came up with courses that provided 110 to 120 hours of training.

B.C.’s MELT program (Mandatory Entry Level Training) became a requirement as of Oct. 18 of this year.

It’s a 140-hour course but, according to Roberts, does not do enough. His full program is 173 hours with students expected to put in 10-hour days, which including practice driving.

“Our minimum program is longer than any other province in Canada,” Roberts said. “I think the justification for that is the mountain training. I also think the Ministry felt they couldn’t make it too much longer because everybody would just leave the province and go get it somewhere else.”

It will be another year before trucking companies will be able to tell if the basic training is turning out better drivers, he noted.

“I’ve seen students receive a lot of training from people who aren’t dedicated to helping them improve,” Roberts said. “They’re just driving around in the same circle, so to speak, for a long period of time so they get a little bit better but they don’t actually get an advanced skill.”

If they’re trained in the Lower Mainland they may not get experience in the mountains or spend much time learning how to properly chain up their trucks for winter driving, even though it’s part of the mandatory training.

“Most schools probably had to go out and buy chains,” Roberts said. “Most of the schools wouldn’t have owned chains let alone training on them.”

Roberts would like to see some sort of graduated licencing.

Drivers should have to put in a certain amount of time hauling a single trailer before moving on to the B-Trains with two trailers, he said.

John White, the editor of Pro-Trucker/Drivers Choice Magazine, takes a much harsher view of the training program.

“The problem is that the Government of Canada does not have the intestinal fortitude to go ahead and put a basic program together that has teeth in it,” he told iNFOnews.ca. “I believe that every transport minister in Canada, provincially and federally, have blood on their hands, because they know where the problem lies, they’ve just done nothing about it. It’s political with them. They try to appease the public with things like the MELT (Mandatory Entry Level Training) program which is only a knee-jerk basic kind of thing that does not give the training that people need.”

White argued for a graduated licencing system that would be much more restrictive than what Roberts suggested.

Drivers should start off one a five to 10-tonne straight truck before graduating to trailers. Only after gaining experience and proficiency on single trailers could they move to the more difficult B-trains, he said.

Some of the bigger and better trucking companies will send a mentor along with a new driver for the first 30 shifts, White said.

That costs money but so do the alternatives.

“It’s expensive to the trucking company but they have their reputation and they have their equipment that they want to be safe,” White said.

Given the large number of inexperienced and, possibly, incompetent truck drivers on the road, should motorists be afraid of truckers on the road?

“Absolutely you should,” Roberts said, before amending it to: “You need to be aware. There’s still lots of very good drivers out there. The quality has dropped over the last 15 to 20 years. Fifteen years ago I would have defended just about any driver because everybody did the right thing. Right now it’s a circus, absolutely a circus.”

White wouldn’t go so far as to say other motorists should be afraid.

“In most cases no, but you should be cautious around them,” White said. “You should give them room.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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