Humboldt Broncos parents, safety advocates concerned about relaxed trucking rules

Road safety advocates, including parents of Humboldt Broncos crash victims, are questioning the Saskatchewan government’s decision to relax rules for truckers.

Saskatchewan government lifts restrictions on truckers' work hours

The Saskatchewan government is relaxing rules for truckers. Drivers will be allowed to exceed the maximum of 13 hours driving per shift if they are carrying essential goods during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Road safety advocates, including parents of Humboldt Broncos crash victims, are questioning the Saskatchewan government's decision to relax rules for truckers.

"I'm concerned. There has to be a better way to move goods than allowing operators and truckers to be put in bad situations like that," said Scott Thomas, whose son Evan was one of 16 people killed when the Broncos bus collided with a semi nearly two years ago.

This week, Premier Scott Moe announced truckers in Saskatchewan could drive for more than the previous maximum of 13 hours per day if they were carrying emergency supplies such as medicine or food.

Drivers are supposed to "monitor their own ability and level of alertness to prevent driving while impaired by fatigue." It is recommended they take a 24-hour break after 14 continuous days of work. 

Moe said the new rules are temporary and were only put in place because of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. He noted the federal government announced similar rules for interprovincial truck travel.

"We've done it A) to ensure that we can get those supplies into our communities and B) to ensure that, where we can, we are aligned across the nation," Moe said.

University of Manitoba professor Ahmed Shalaby said there's no need to allow truckers to work longer shifts because volumes and demand are down overall in Canada since mid-March. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

University of Manitoba professor Ahmed Shalaby said there's a risk that the government is "addressing one emergency but creating another one."

Shalaby said there's no shortage of drivers at the moment and no need to allow current drivers to drive excessive hours. It could cause tired drivers to make bad decisions, he said.

"Trucking is not the bottleneck in the system. I don't see it. The problem is the production and supply of these [emergency] goods," Shalaby said.

Shalaby pointed to a recent article on the industry website Frieght Waves that tracked shipping volumes for semis in Canada. It found a 12 per cent drop since March 19. Several owners interviewed said they intended to apply for the federal wage subsidy to prevent laying off more drivers. 

Shalaby said this suggests there are more than enough drivers at the moment to share the work required.

Saskatchewan previously allowed truckers to drive for 13 hours during a maximum 15-hour shift. That was already two hours more than their American counterparts, Shalaby said.

"We were already driving 20 per cent more without lifting the restrictions," he said.

Scott Thomas, father of deceased Humboldt Broncos player Evan Thomas, said he's concerned about the relaxed rules for semi drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Shalaby pointed to other research that shows a marked increase in errors and collisions after drivers exceed 10 hours of driving in a shift.

Fellow Broncos parent Lyle Brons said he has mixed feelings about the relaxed rules. Brons, whose daughter Dayna was one of those killed in the crash, agrees COVID-19 preparedness has to be a top priority, but said he hopes regulators will still be able to keep tired or unsafe drivers off the road.

Patti Fair, executive director of the group Safer Roads Canada, said some exceptions may be necessary, but this new blanket policy is far too broad.

"I'm nervous about the roads on a good day. Relaxing the hours of service makes me even more nervous, absolutely," Fair said.

Fair, whose husband Steve was killed in a semi crash several years ago, said the pandemic is exposing the gaps in trucking regulations.

Fair, Shalaby and others applauded the Saskatchewan government and others for making basic training mandatory for all new truckers, but they say more needs to be done. They're pressing for governments to declare trucking a profession with strict standards and oversight. Then, in the event of a crisis, there'd be a co-ordinated plan to supply highly-trained expert drivers to provide essential services, they say.

"We have to do better. There's a clear necessity here," Fair said.


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