Humboldt crash 'real impetus' for trucking safety, driver test overhaul, Alberta minister says

In an effort pushed forward by the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Alberta's transportation minister is proposing a major overhaul of its trucking industry regulations and the province's privatized driving licensing system.

Proposal to add training for truck drivers, address 'complete lack of oversight' of driver exams

Transportation Minister Brian Mason says the Humboldt bus crash was the impetus for moving forward on improvements to regulating the commercial trucking industry in Alberta. (CBC)

In an effort pushed forward by the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Alberta's transportation minister is proposing a major overhaul of its trucking industry regulations and the province's privatized driving licensing system.

Brian Mason said Tuesday the licensing system, which has been privatized for 25 years, is currently marred by frequent complaints, potential for abuse and "a complete lack of oversight."

His department intends to make all driving examiners government employees by January 2019, pending consultations launched Tuesday immediately following his announcement. 

Clearly the terrible tragedy has focused everyone on the need to do even more to make sure that our highways, our trucking system are as safe as possible.-  Transportation Minister Brian Mason

Alberta Transportation is also proposing to close a loophole that allows trucking companies to operate without a safety certificate, and to implement mandatory training for tractor trailer, bus and school bus drivers, who now simply must pass a test.

The province had been looking at changes to the commercial trucking industry since well before the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash in Saskatchewan in April, but Mason pointed to that deadly collision as his motivation for the quick timeline.

"The horrible tragedy at Humboldt was a real impetus for today's announcement. The matters that we're working on today were things that we were working on at that time," Mason said at a press conference at the Alberta Motor Transport Association headquarters in Calgary.

"But clearly the terrible tragedy has focused everyone on the need to do even more to make sure that our highways, our trucking system are as safe as possible."

A memorial at the site of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

The fatal crash involving a semi-trailer and the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus killed 16 people and injured 13 others.

The driver of the truck, a 29-year-old Calgary man named Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, faces 16 charges of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. He appeared in court Tuesday and was released on bail.

Parents of a deceased Broncos player, 16-year-old Adam Herold, are suing the driver, the company, Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., for which the driver worked, and the bus's manufacturer.

More training, different tests

The changes were announced with support from several industry groups, but further business and public consultations will take place this month, with the goal of getting the changes in place for January.

The province commissioned a third-party consultant's report in 2016 on Alberta's driver testing and licencing system.

Mason characterized the report as having found "significant difficulties with the current model," including poor service, improprieties and criminal activity.

"We have complaints every week and there is a complete lack of oversight," he told the crowd.

  • Read the report detailing issues identified with the current driver examiner model.

Some complaints have addressed the availability of driving test staff, professionalism of the test staff, the high fees for tests and, he said, students being failed in order to solicit a second test fee.

As a result, the province is proposing making driver examiners government employees.

Driver licence services and road tests have been privatized in Alberta since 1993.

"We must address the issues that have been identified with the driver examiner process," Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson said. "Even one instance of sexual harassment, bribery or fraud is one too many."

The minister said that despite wanting to make registry agents government staff, the province will ensure the same level of access to service in both rural and urban communities.

Watch Transportation Minister Brian Mason's full comments:

The province is also considering a mandatory entry-level training course for drivers applying for Class 1 (tractor trailer), Class 2 (bus) and an S endorsement, which is for school bus driving. Such training is offered only in Ontario currently, Mason said.

Right now, if a driver passes the tests, they don't require further training.

Industry and the public will be consulted about curriculum, training course length and the result in Ontario.

Craig Couillard, president of the Association of Alberta Registry Agents, said his organization fully supports the province's proposal.

Tackling 'chameleon carriers'

Alberta also says it wants to kill a 60-day temporary safety licence offered to new carriers that allows them to continue operating while waiting for a federal safety fitness certificate.

Mason said that temporary certificate has led to "chameleon carriers," who operate until the federal government refuses to give them a safety fitness certificate, and then the company simply reopens under another name.

Getting rid of the 60-day period will eliminate this trend, which Mason said is "a particular problem" in Alberta. Instead, all carriers will be obligated to prove their safety compliance before operating.

The Canadian Trucking Association released a statement, following the announcement, applauding Alberta's proposed safety changes as making a good step toward eliminating the so-called chameleon operators and improving driver training. 

President Stephen Laskowski said most operators "embrace a culture of compliance by far exceeding minimal safety requirements" but called for Canada-wide standards.

The association said the alleged actions of the truck driver involved in the Humboldt crash "should not be treated in isolation" but instead be a catalyst for improvements to the industry.

Anyone wishing to provide feedback on the proposed changes can fill out an online survey on the government's website before July 27.