Entry-level training to get trucking licence in N.W.T. will be mandatory as of January

More training is needed but the new program might not make better drivers, says truck driving school owner

Northwest Territories residents who want to get their Class 1 license — needed to drive semi-trailers and tractor trailers — will have to go through mandatory entry-level training (MELT), beginning January 2022.

Right now in the N.W.T., drivers take a practical and theoretical exam to get their Class 1 licence. Training is not mandatory, although many trucking companies provide it.

The new MELT program is being finalized and will consist of some in-class material, in-cab training and in-yard training, according to the government of the Northwest Territories.

“This will enhance safety for drivers and the public,” said a spokesperson with the territorial government.

The new program will be delivered by Aurora College but the government said it also wants to work with driving schools in the territory so they’re also able to provide the training.

“The GNWT looks forward to working with driving schools interested in seeking ELT (entry-level training) accreditation in all N.W.T. communities and where needed by the trucking industry or by drivers seeking to obtain a Class 1 for the first time,” an email to CBC News read in part.

‘Not enough to make a highway truck driver’

Norman Pottinger owns and operates Arctic Defensive Driving School in Yellowknife, one of the few driving schools in the territory that offers a Class 1 course. 

More training is needed for drivers, he said, but the MELT program might not be enough to make better drivers right away.

Norman Pottinger is the owner and operator of the Arctic Defensive Driving School in Yellowknife, N.W.T. He’s not sure the N.W.T.’s mandatory entry-level training program for new truck drivers will be enough to make better truck drivers. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

He hasn’t received all the details of the changes the curriculum could mean for his school but he knows he’ll have to upgrade to meet the requirements.

“We’re going to add more seat time to the truck, and we’re going to add quite a bit more instruction also, classroom and yard instruction.” he said.

He would have liked the government to include a type of mentorship program with more on-the-job training by the truck driving companies that hire drivers.

“Technically, it’s not enough to make a highway truck driver,” he said, adding he thinks the government should have instituted on-the-job training providing by the trucking companies. 

Pottinger has trained several drivers across the N.W.T. and Nunavut. He said there’s a lot to learn and he sees drivers get into trouble because they lack experience and are thrown into big jobs right off the hop.

“These guys are so overwhelmed when they start off and they get in that cab of the truck and they feel like it’s an airplane,” he said. “Some of the guys are just overwhelmed with the size of the truck and then never mind later on, they got to add weight and speed to the equation. So, there’s a lot.”

Strong public support

The move toward the program follows the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus accident in Saskatchewan in the spring of 2018, and the renewed calls for mandatory training for commercial truck drivers in Canada. The N.W.T. government’s Department of Infrastructure held public consultations in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Simpson. They were meant to get feedback on how to implement and design the program to meet the needs of northerners while remaining consistent with other jurisdictions. 

It found there was strong public support for a program like MELT in the N.W.T.

The territory will join eight other jurisdictions in Canada that use mandatory entry-level training, like British Columbia, which was the most recent province to implement it, earlier this month.

The N.W.T will also be the first territory to implement MELT; Nunavut and the Yukon have not made any changes yet. However, the Yukon government is rewriting the Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act that dates back to 1977. It said the updates will ensure that the Yukon remains consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada and align their standards with the National Safety Code.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Yukon government wrote that it does not have a training requirement for clients to take a practical test.

“However, we strongly encourage applicants to take preparatory training through a driving school to improve their chances for a successful test,” the spokesperson wrote.

She said the Yukon government is committed to implementing MELT for Class 1 truck drivers, although she did not provide a timeline. There is only one driving school in the Yukon that offers truck driver training.

The spokesperson added that since British Columbia now requires MELT training, all drivers originating from British Columbia and driving to the Yukon will be required to have that training.