Humboldt Tragedy_MELT program

Posted By John White: EDITOR-IN-CHIEF On 2023-03-07 15:12:05

Looking Back After Five Years

Jaskirat Sidhu was the truck driver that pulled out in front of the bus carrying the Humboldt hockey team. He had taken a one-week driver training course, which was enough training in the government's mind for him to receive his Class 1. He then trained with another driver for two weeks, which was enough training in the owner of the company's mind. On the day of the tragedy, he was hauling one of his first solo loads. A tandem trailer laden with peat moss.

Jaskirat came to Canada in 2014 after getting his Commerce degree in India. His girlfriend, Tanvir Mann, came to Canada in 2013 after completing her nursing degree in India. They were married just three months before the crash.

They were building towards a successful life in Canada when Jaskirat took the driver training course to earn enough money to send his wife back to school. Previously he worked in a liquor store, and she worked part-time at Tim Hortons. She dreamed of working in her chosen profession, and he planned to return to school after she graduated.

I am not making an excuse for what happened, and at no point did Jaskirat attempt to hide from his mistake. On the contrary, he immediately accepted responsibility by pleading guilty to all charges instead of putting the mourning families through a long, drawn-out court case.

Implementing MELT programs was the government's knee-jerk reaction to the Humboldt tragedy. Unfortunately, it only gave politicians the opportunity for photo ops where they could offer their "thoughts and prayers" and show their outrage at a broken system that they, apparently by their reaction, unknowingly, had condoned for so long. The federal government's response to the tragedy was to put together a very loose minimum standard for new drivers, but they left the final details up to the individual provinces and territories, which is the problem.

The public was proudly told that the MELT program would ensure new truck drivers were trained to a minimum standard. Emphasis on minimum. While it is much better than the quickie course that Jaskirat took, it is still, no matter how you look at it, a minimum band-aid program that relies on the industry to finish the job.

While most companies are doing a great job of providing further training, there is still nothing stopping fly-by-night companies from cutting their recruits loose as soon as they come out of school. It reminds me of an ICBC inspector in BC who sadly, but in all seriousness, used to tell drivers, "Okay, you have passed the test. Now go learn to drive."

Besides the limited instruction, one of the biggest problems with MELT is that no two provinces offer the same program. They are all different, from the course length to the curriculum itself. For instance, if you take the Ontario MELT course, you must take an air brake course before getting your BC Class 1. Then, of course, you have Mountain driving and chaining up, things that most provinces do not find necessary to teach. The problem is nothing is stopping these drivers from breaking over the Rogers Pass with a fully loaded b-train in the middle of the winter. That is, if they make it that far before spinning out and blocking traffic while trying to figure out how to put chains on.

Then you have the age-old problem of having fly-by-night driving schools that undercut respectable schools by taking shortcuts and not teaching the whole program. The threat of using few and far-between spot checks by a minimal number of inspectors as a means of policing schools has never worked in the past, so why should it now? Remember that old definition of insanity? "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." a good addition to that definition is: "except in politics, where it is called leadership."

The best way to ensure new drivers enter the trade as safe professionals is through an apprenticeship program culminating in trade certification. The next best would be a graduated licensing system where a driver must be certified every step of the way. Unfortunately, either of these would require government money, but it seems our politicians feel thoughts and prayers are good enough.

As I wrote after the Humboldt tragedy, it is the politicians, both federal and provincial, past and present, who have blood on their hands. Their most important job is the safety and welfare of the Canadian people, and regarding highway safety, they have failed miserably.  

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