Lack of training to blame for truck drivers crashing into overpasses, says B.C. Truck Association

Trucks have been crashing into overpasses on B.C.'s highways with surprising regularity. What gives?

B.C.'s Transportation Ministry is reviewing the Class 1 training program

The 152 Street overpass in Surrey was closed for more than three months after a truck slammed into it. (Gary Hanney/CBC)

Trucks have been crashing into overpasses on B.C.'s highways with surprising regularity.

A semi-truck driving south on Highway 1 in Langley collided Tuesday into the Glover Road overpass, causing a two-hour lane closure. 

In December 2017, a truck slammed into the 152 Street overpass on Highway 99, affecting nearby businesses. In July 2017, a pedestrian overpass in Burnaby collapsed after being hit by a dump truck.

What gives?

There's no standard for training truck drivers, says the head of the B.C. Trucking Association. 

"Clearly, the individual who was driving didn't understand the dimensions or the structure of the load and how it related to the infrastructure around them," CEO Dave Earle said about Tuesday's collision. 

Poorly trained drivers are ill-equipped for navigating perilous highways, causing accidents that snarl traffic, drain resources and require costly repairs.

"When things go wrong, they go very wrong," Earle said.

Some training courses don't 'cut it'

Driving a semi-truck requires a Class 1 licence, which involves holding a Class 5 or 6 licence, passing a knowledge and road test, completing air-brake training and undergoing a driver record screening.

A Class 1 licence also lets you drive smaller commercial vehicles like school buses and dump trucks. 

To prepare for the tests, drivers can go through an array of driving schools that offer different curricula.

The most rigorous programs offer a blend of theory and up to 100 hours of on-road training.

Truck drivers can sometimes misjudge the height of an overpass. (Ryan Stelting/CBC)

"In other circumstances, the individual goes through a two- or three-day course, writes the knowledge test, passes the road test and they're on the road the following week," Earle said. 

"That's just not going to cut it." 

ICBC increasing retest waiting times

That's assuming the driver passes their road test the first time. 

Between Jan.1, 2015 and June 12, 2018, the average pass rate for Class 1 road tests was roughly 53 per cent, according to ICBC data.

As of June 25, ICBC is increasing its Class 1 retest waiting times.

Drivers who fail their road test the first time will wait two weeks, instead of one week, before retesting. Those who fail the test twice or more must wait 30 days instead of 14 days. 

The change is meant to encourage drivers to better prepare and to free up appointments, said ICBC spokeswoman Lindsay Olsen. 

But Earle said most drivers don't have access to trucks to practice. And there's no requirement for the individual to practice more, he said.

Overpass collisions can lead to traffic woes for motorists. (CBC)

Class 1 training program under review

B.C.'s Transportation Ministry is reviewing the Class 1 training program, which it says is consistent with all Canadian jurisdictions except Ontario.

Ontario implemented a new commercial driving training program in 2017 that mandates at least 103.5 hours of instruction. 

B.C. will review the recommendations before deciding on improvements. 

The Transportation Ministry said overpass collisions are uncommon given the hundreds of oversize loads that move across the Lower Mainland every week. 

It said collisions happen when drivers don't secure an oversize permit or fail to follow prescribed routes.