Jun 30, 2016 at 07:32 AM CST
BRAMPTON — Aspiring truckers in Ontario will soon be required to hit the books before hitting the road.
On Tuesday, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca unveiled new mandatory entry-level training standards for future tractor trailer drivers who, by next summer, will be required to study at provincially licensed schools. Previously, no formal instruction was necessary before student drivers could take their road tests.
Now, would-be truckers must spend more than 100 hours in training — in the classroom and behind the wheel — before they can book their test.
"With the introduction of mandatory entry-level training, we are making sure that commercial truck drivers are properly trained before they are tested and allowed to drive on our roads," Del Duca told reporters at a DriveTest Centre in Brampton. "We are making sure that trucking standards are kept high and that Ontario continues to lead in the commercial truck driving space."
The new standards, developed in consultation with the trucking industry, come after a Star investigation that found anyone could obtain a Class-A licence — needed to drive tractor-trailers and commercial trucks — without any formal or mandatory training. The Star revealed that this lack of required driver education had allowed the growth of dozens of unregulated truck training schools across the GTA that teach just enough for students to pass the road test.
These schools, known as "licensing mills" by trucking industry insiders, evade government detection by charging students just under $1,000 — the price threshold the province set for regulated courses at private career colleges and other schools. Now that the province will require all schools providing training to be licensed — and use provincially approved curriculum — these cut-rate schools will essentially be put out of business, said Del Duca.
The minister said road and knowledge tests will also be beefed-up to reflect the new training standards.
Transport ministry statistics show that in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, large trucks were involved in 105 deaths, accounting for 22 per cent of all road fatalities in Ontario.
The new mandatory course will be a minimum of 103.5 hours, including time spent in the classroom, in the yard and behind the wheel. Truck training schools now have one year to study the new standards and develop curriculum for provincial approval.
The new standards come into effect on July 1, 2017.
Truck training insiders told the Star courses are likely to cost between $5,000 and $6,000, but prices have not yet been set.
David Bradley, CEO of the Ontario Trucking Association, hailed the new standards as "a game changer."
"Ontario is leading the way in terms of further improving highway safety and helping the industry to ensure it has an adequate supply of consistently trained, quality new drivers in the future," said Bradley, whose organization helped lead the development of the new standards with the province.
"The mere fact that a new driver holds a Class-A licence has not been indicative of the competency level of that driver. That's been a concern of the industry for some time."
Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, which represents companies that use large truck fleets, said the new standards will help to raise the profile of the truck-driving profession.
"The standard will also go a long way in removing the unqualified licensing mill training schools from our industry," said Millian, who has worked as a driver, instructor and fleet manager over his 26 years in the industry.
The changes, however, weren't embraced by all in the truck training business.
John Beaudry, owner of Transport Training Centres of Canada, said it was "absurd" that Del Duca settled on 103.5 hours of mandatory entry-level education when the current standard offered by private career colleges like Beaudry's is 200 hours.
"We don't have enough training hours as it is," said Beaudry, adding his 20 locations across Ontario train between 2,500 and 3,500 students annually.
"There's a 200-hour standard and we need every single minute of that devoted to delivering our best (instruction) in order to produce quality drivers … To cut it in half, it's not going to be good."