Untrained truckers hitting the road
Manjinder Singh knows to stay clear of trucks when driving on Toronto’s highways— because he sells them insurance.
Singh, managing partner of Young’s Insurance Brokers in Brampton, Ont., feels the number of truck accidents is too high in Canada. “It’s getting worse and worse each year,” says Singh. “Trucks are very heavy—they can carry 50,000 pounds. If they hit someone, the impact is huge. The injuries are mostly catastrophic.”
The stats offer a few caution signs over what’s happening on our roads. According to Ontario’s 2011 Road Safety Annual Report, between 2007 and 2011, 190 people in Ontario were killed in collisions involving large trucks, with a third of those involving improper driving by the truck driver. Meanwhile, out in B.C., there are roughly 1,000 time-loss injuries amongst the province’s truckers each year. On average, these employees miss 17 weeks of work, according to the B.C. Trucking Association, with a total per-claim cost of $34,000,
“We’re starting to see that that there’s an upswing in losses as a result of inexperienced operators being put in unfamiliar circumstances,” says Barry Peabody, a consultant in product management for SGI Canada. “There is a huge increase in the cost to insurance companies because they have to pay out catastrophic injury compensation to these people,” says Singh. “Someone has to come forward and fix this problem.”
Once upon a time, in the back of magazines and comic books, you could find ads that invited you to “Draw Gumby” and once you sent it in, your artwork would be “assessed” by professionals to see if you had the kind of talent to go to art school… by correspondence. Funny enough, everyone who mailed in their cartoon turned out to be Rembrandt. And when it comes to trucking, things seem to be just as sketchy.
To become a trucker in Ontario, for example, you take one test with written and practical components. The Class A commercial driver’s licence allows you to drive and tow motor vehicles exceeding a total gross weight of 10,000 lbs. All you need by way of prep is a G driver’s license. No training? No problem.
“In Ontario, you can just go and write your license, book your appointment and drive,” says Scott Creighton, manager of risk services, transportation and logistics at Northbridge Insurance.
What’s not required is mandatory, entrylevel training for truck drivers. Sure, the Ontario government plans on introducing mandatory entry-level driver training but it doesn’t yet have a time frame in mind.
Many prospective truckers attend training programs, but these vary widely. “There are good driver training schools that turn out good graduates that can then be moulded into good truck drivers,” says David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance. “But at the other end of the spectrum we have what are basically ‘puppy mills’ that provide just enough knowledge to allow someone to pass a Class A test.”
The end result: would-be drivers who don’t know how to drive something large with multiple wheels. “Newly licensed drivers—they can’t back up a rig,” says Bradley.
While many reputable trucking firms step in to help new drivers get the training they need, that’s not a given. “The larger carriers, they have the resources, the ability and the funds to put them through a good finishing program if they get some inexperienced drivers,” says Creighton. “The problem with a lot of small to mid-sized carriers is they don’t have that funding.”
As a result, some inexperienced drivers are forced to merge before they’re ready.
Class A is an entry-level license, and the test to obtain one has its critics. “It’s not a good vocational test,” Bradley says, because it fails to show the employer what skills that driver possesses. And insurers are equally skeptical. “What the insurers have told us is they don’t put a lot of weight on the fact someone has a Class A license.”
“We have argued as an industry that if someone has a Class A test, then they have to have a basic level of skill,” he adds. “Right now we don’t have that assurance.”
The end result can be people who are officially trained but not employable. “So we have this situation where they can’t get a job, they leave the industry with a bad taste in their mouth. Or some of these people will gravitate to the poorer carriers because reputable people won’t hire them.”
Cabs like cockpits
Like many in the industry, Peabody would like to see truckers obtain a certain degree of education and certification to ensure that designation. “The government looks at certain professions as skilled. Professional truckers should be considered skilled labour. Quite often, drivers are getting behind the wheel and operating, and perhaps don’t have the amount of experience that would be preferred.”
And experience is critical. Trucks have become much more advanced over the years, with industry insiders likening cabs to cockpits. There’s increased pressure on truck operators to deliver freight on time in very congested, potentially dangerous conditions. There are many regulations to abide by too, given that each province has its own. “There’s so much more to the trucking industry today,” says Creighton. “Tight timelines for just-in-time deliveries, log books now are going electronic, satellite tracking, temperature-controlled trailers with reefers that are all electronic, trip planning, load security. There are so many more regulations today than there were even 20 years ago.”
What’s complicating things even more is an actual shortage of qualified drivers in the industry, a problem that’s set to intensify. Scan the Internet for trucking positions and you’ll come across hundreds of postings. In a desperate industry, getting anyone, even a driver with little experience, is becoming the name of the game.
“It’s a very aging workforce on the trucking side of things and there’s a lot of drivers set to retire in the next few years,” says Creighton. “We have to figure out a way to replace them.”
Singh says many drivers sign up with a carrier for a few weeks, get all their paperwork filled, their insurance secured —and then jump ship for another firm. “There are increasing costs to employers, brokers and insurers,” says Singh, the result of hours spent redrafting insurance contracts and going over paperwork.
His solution would be standardized licensing and training from reputable schools sanctioned by the government and recognized by insurance companies as accredited facilities. “It shouldn’t be any Joe Blow’s driving school,” he says, adding extensive training should be done when drivers are coming on board.
Moreover, “the insurance company should be part of the process.” Singh says the companies should have the ability to rescind a school’s designation if it fails to adhere to mandated levels of training or turn out poorly qualified graduates. A graduated licensing model would work well to ensure a new driver isn’t given too much responsibility all at once. For example, if a driver has only a Level 1 license, “he shouldn’t be able to work independently for a year.” After one year, the driver would write a second test for a Level 2 license. And after that, “there should be an annual four-to-five-hour refresher course.”
On top of that, he would want to see the training clearly delineated: it should include classroom training, yard training (such as unloading cargo safely) and 300 to 400 hours on the road.
And penalties should be in place if a driver gets into several at-fault accidents. “If the driver has Level 2, and has had two at-fault accidents, he should be demoted to Level 1,” says Singh.
Creighton also believes that a standardized training model would go a long way in improving the safety of the industry, while also helping attract new entrants into the profession. “That’s going to help with retention and recruitment because they’re going to know, when they go into the courses, what they’re in for.” He believes prospective drivers are already seeking more training. “You see more young people—they do want to have the proper training, they want to go out and do that job.”
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the March 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine