EDMONTON, Alta. – Following public criticism, including from some family members of those killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, the Alberta government will no longer consider exempting some commercial drivers from mandatory entry-level training (MELT) or re-testing.
A September report in the Globe and Mail had indicated that the province would ease its testing standards for some drivers in the farming and bus sectors.
The issue revolved around a possible exemption to drivers being deemed “transition drivers,” as well as farm and bus drivers called “extension drivers” from having to retake the MELT knowledge and road tests. Transition drivers are any Class 1 or 2 driver who acquired their license between Oct. 11, 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019, while extension drivers are farm and bus drivers who earned their license March 1 and beyond.
Drivers in these categories received a letter in the mail from Driver Programs and Licensing Standards with details about their driving record and whether they would be required to retake MELT-enhanced knowledge and road tests to retain their commercial license.
And, as Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) president Chris Nash explained, drivers in the agriculture sector were looking to have these exemptions permanent – which the AMTA does not support.
Reports now indicate that the government is no longer considering separate training standards for Class 1 and Class 2 farming and school bus drivers. Transition and extension drivers will also no longer receive any exemptions from MELT re-testing or training.
Alberta Transport Minister Ric McIver wrote on Facebook that after meeting with some Humboldt families, his government was looking for ways to “hold these 6,800 drivers to a zero-tolerance safety standard with a probationary period.”
The 6,800 drivers McIver is referring to are those who received their Class 1 or 2 license between Oct. 11, 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019, which followed the announcement of MELT, but was before the program became law.
McIver continued, writing, “Following our conversation with the families, we have decided that transition drivers will be placed on two years’ probation, in addition to an already required clean driving record. If they receive an infraction of any kind within their two-year probation, they will be automatically required to retest under MELT.”
McIver added in an Op-Ed in the Calgary Herald that neither farmers nor school bus drivers will be permanently exempted, and following the two-year probation, the new training rules will take effect.
In February, the previous Alberta government extended the deadline for farm workers to comply with the MELT program. After consultation with the agriculture industry, the previous government said it granted the exemption to those in the sector “to avoid undue pressure on seeding and harvesting operations this year.”
The Alberta government still encouraged farmers and farm workers to complete the MELT program before acquiring their Class 1 or 2 driver’s license, but that it would not be mandatory during the 2019 farming season.
In a response to the argument that farm truck drivers only move their product short distances, Toby Boulet, who lost his son Logan in the Humboldt tragedy, wrote on Twitter, “Just driving a short distance from your home or farm! This is a ridiculous argument. Watch the reports and decide for yourself. Everyone is on the same road. It is becoming an argument about economics. The value of a load of grain and a life. I know where I stand.”
At the time, McIver had said on Facebook that the farming and school bus driving professions are highly flexible and seasonal industries.
Some family members of those killed in the Humboldt collision traveled to Edmonton to oppose the proposed re-testing exemptions to transition and extension drivers.