The MELT program
By G. Ray Gompf, CD
MELT — Mandatory Entry Level Training — is a fact in Ontario, the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate such training. But will that structure of MELT make us any safer? Will other jurisdictions just follow suit or will they research their own. Just because it is done somewhere doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.
In all jurisdictions, save for Ontario, training to become a truck driver is more qualify to be able to pass the government testing in order to acquire the license level desired. It’s the same situation as becoming a licensed car driver, in that the test itself is the absolute qualifier. Therein lies the problem.
All driver training should be to bring the new driver to an acceptable skill level and each new driver trained to have at the very minimum had exposure to everything expected for safe operation within the class of vehicles being anticipated.
Entry level truck driving is different only inasmuch as the lowest age level is somewhat higher, and assumes the new truck driver has some car driving experience under his/her belt in the several years before being permitted to explore a classified drivers licence. Rules of the road are assumed to be well learned and believed to be the same.
MELT assumes a certain skill and knowledge level and goes forward from the assumption. MELT should assume nothing and teach as if there is absolutely no knowledge, no skill level whatsoever and ensure that assumed knowledge and experience is factually present.
Remember the M in MELT is minimum.
MELT should be a fact for each specific vehicle the classified drivers licence could expect to drive. In other words, there’s a difference in driving skill development for a flatbedder and a dry box hauler. Dump truck operators are also a different breed with much different skills required.
Recently, there was a factoid published that refuse haulers have a higher incident rate resulting in death than any other truck driving requirement. Why does handling waste result in more deaths than all other commodities combined? Because the training required does not meet the needs of every truck type where people may become employed.
In the military, driving qualifications are listed specifically for each and every piece of equipment this particular driver may drive. Why do our governments not require training on each type of vehicle that can be driven by that operator?
This isn’t to suggest there needs to be specific training depending on the manufacturer of the vehicle — those differences share a lot of commonality. But there is considerable differences in the various commodities that could be hauled and considerable differences in the methodology of handling, or fastening the to the deck. Gravity is not a fastening device although often one would never know it from the vast number of improper loading that takes place.
A dry box hauler, should never ever jump under a flat deck without a serious training session to bring the drivers skill level up to par for flat deck hauling. The driver that never leaves the yard tractor and only backs trailers to the dock certainly has the skill level to back up but does he have the skill to drive on the highway? Same licence. Those hauling liquid have a whole different set of skills as do those who pull a reefer. Then there’s the transportation of hazardous materials, or dangerous goods. All share the same licence.
MELT is a phenomenal start but anyone thinking its the be all and end all is thinking like a politician. Smugly.
In Ontario, there have been several politically motivated “safety” programs in the past few years. “Force all commercial vehicles to have speed limiters”, they said. “It will be safer” they said. Before speed limiters, there were about 2,500 collision incidents involving commercial vehicles annually in the entire province. That sounds terrible and it is but after speed limiters became a requirement, the collision incident rate went up to well over 6,500 on just the highways patrolled by the Ontario Provincial Police. Granted, the OPP patrol and respond to incidents on the major highways where the public and commercial traffic is most closely interacted, but there are still far too many commercial collision incidents on roads not patrolled by the OPP. Possibly, the government altered the methodology for recording such events because to give comparative statistics would be too much of a shock for the general public.
A better solution, than MELT, would be for the government, all governments, to recognize truck driving as a skilled trade with a proper career path, a proper training apprenticeship plan to develop the proper skill level. Instead of licensing at entry level, training not only should, but absolutelly must be a career long experience with advancement through the trade without regard to the longevity with the present employer. Longevity should be tied to the date first qualified to drive commercially, not with the current carrier.
No highly skilled driver should become an owner operator without the proper business training to virtually guarantee success.
Paying drivers for all they do would help. Right now the overwhelming majority of drivers are paid based on productivity only. So, if the wheels aren’t turning, the driver isn’t earning. Yet, when there are about a daily hour’s worth, or more, of government mandated safety inspections that are absolute requirements, drivers are not paid. Drivers are not paid to load or unload yet often expected to do so. Not only that, with the hours of service regulations and recording devices, that unpaid effort reduces the driver’s ability to produce miles.
There is waiting time, that eats into his / her daily maximum hours of productivity at shippers and receivers. While the carriers often claim detention time against the source of the detention, very rarely does any of those detention charges reach the drivers pay envelope.
Forty year veterans of the road get the same pay as raw rookies because the only qualifier is that minimum entry level licence. What other tradesmen would stand for skill level being worth zero?
Then there’s the student of yesterday, testing and earning his licence today, being the instructor tomorrow. Hopefully, that practice is a thing of the past but seriously there’s nothing to prevent it. What will prevent the under qualified instructor is Government recognition of the trade of truck driving.
There must be a concerted effort for all government levels, all the regulatory bodies, and stakeholders in the industry to not just support the concept of truck driving as a skilled trade with all the attendant career path, and career long skills development but to also enthusiastically promote it.