'Overdue' mandatory semi-driver training a good start, but not enough: Broncos parents

Saskatchewan's mandatory training for prospective semi-drivers is a step in the right direction, according to two parents of Humboldt Broncos players who died in the crash last April, but who also believe more can be done to improve safety.

Russell Herold calls for graduated licensing system, federal regulations

An aerial view of wreckage from the collision after the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a semi-trailer last year in Saskatchewan. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan's "long overdue" rules for prospective semi-drivers don't go far enough, says the dad of one of the Humboldt Broncos players killed last year in a collision. 

"It should be a graduated system of licensing," said Russell Herold, father of 16-year-old defenceman Adam Herold.

"Experience is still the greatest trainer."

Saskatchewan's lack of regulations were scrutinized after 16 Broncos players and others travelling with the team died. Thirteen people were also injured. 

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was charged in July with 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. He was behind the wheel of the semi that collided with the bus. 

He has not yet entered a plea.

Sukhmander Singh, owner and director of Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., Sidhu's employer at the time of the crash, faces eight counts of failing to comply with various safety and log-keeping regulations. He is still seeking a lawyer.

Herold said most professions require people to work their way up to the highest level, and used the aviation industry as an example. 

"You're an airplane pilot, you don't automatically graduate and go from learning how to fly a plane to getting to fly that 747 full of people," he said. "So why do you — because you've got your licence now — automatically drive the biggest, heaviest rig on the highway?"

Herold also said provincial action is not enough. He's advocating for standardized regulations across Canada. Ontario is the only province with a mandatory training program for long-haul truckers. 

Russell Herold says a graduated licensing system could consider a driver's time behind the wheel, the number of kilometres logged and the weight and size of the trailer. (Russell and Raelene Herold)

"Trucks do cross borders all the time, so you want to know that people are coming into your province are as qualified as the people that are driving in the province."

Herold said there are frustrations that the mandatory training took so long to be implemented in-province. 

Herold and his wife filed a lawsuit earlier this summer, alleging negligence on behalf of Sidhu, the trucking company and the manufacturer of the bus.

They allege in the claim that Sidhu was inadequately trained by his employer, Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., and that Sidhu "intentionally, recklessly and/or negligently" drove the semi through the collision intersection near Tisdale, Sask., without regard for the corner's warning lights and stop sign. The bus had the right of way.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

The minister responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, Joe Hargrave, admitted last week that more training for commercial drivers should have been in place years ago.

"This same government has been in power for how many years, and they're saying now it should have been done a long time ago, so why wasn't it?"

Hargrave said Monday that the mandatory training "isn't a Humboldt Broncos plan," but noted the tragedy made it clear  the province needed to "get this done." 

He said the government began reviewing the system in 2017. 

This intersection is where the crash involving the Broncos team bus and a semi truck crashed in April. Saskatchewan's rules will require drivers to take 121.5 hours of training before taking the Class 1 test. The new system comes into effect March 1, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Herold said his family is still coping as best as it can, day to day, while trying to cope with a life without Adam.

It hasn't been easy.

He said there are constant reminders of Adam everywhere, including dealing with big trucks.

"It's a fact of life if you go anywhere on the highway or anywhere now that there's truck after truck after truck," Herold said.

They're also a part of life of his family's life on their farm near Montmartre, Sask.

Drivers working for farm operations are currently exempt from the mandatory training rules.

"There still should be training, even for the agriculture sector whether it's the full amount of training or a modified system," said Herold.

"We still share the roads."

Dad says new rules a step closer to safer roads

Scott Thomas said he has been advocating for improved semi-driver training since the Broncos bus crash.

His 18-year-old son Evan died in the collision, and he believes a gap in driver training is one of many factors that contributed to the fatal crash.

He is hopeful that the mandatory training can curb one of those factors. 

"Hopefully this is one step in that path and everyone can rest easy in the fact that it's safer now than it was before April 6."

Thomas said the absence of mandatory training for semi drivers was a glaring hole in the system.

"I think it's a good thing everybody's at least guaranteed to have a minimum level of competency."

Scott Thomas, father of Broncos player Evan, who also died in the crash, said there are still other issues he wants to see addressed, like a lack of seat-belts on buses and concerns regarding the intersection where the crash happened. (CBC)

Thomas said the exemption for drivers at farming operations doesn't concern him.

"That's something I'm comfortable with. Most farmers drive from grain bin and field and back," he said.

"I think they're probably already well above and beyond the 121 hours just from the time that they're 10 years old to the time they're 16."

With files from Jason Warick