Border crossing issues stemming from COVID-19 health restrictions, as well as an aging workforce that’s rapidly reaching retirement, has led to an exodus of drivers from Canada’s trucking sector over the past two years.
Stresses from that situation are amplified in Alberta, where the economy is making significant post-pandemic rebounds as the rising price of oil spurs significant economic growth and a sharp “increase in demand for trucks to get goods to market,” said Aaron Sutherland, vice president, Pacific region, at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
As older, more experienced rig operators retire, Alberta’s economic prosperity is intersecting with insurance industry concerns about the skill levels of newly minted commercial drivers.
“The new drivers coming on stream lack the same level of experience…,” Sutherland told Canadian Underwriter. “And they also lack access to an adequate training and road-safety program. So, what we have seen in the last five years is a dramatic increase in the number of claims and in the size of claims across all the trucking segments in the province.
“That metamorphosis is putting pressure on the insurance market for these vehicles.”
“That tells me these drivers just aren’t getting the training to ensure that [those trucks are] loaded safely,” he said. “The results of this inspection are further evidence that drivers need more training on how to use their vehicles as safely as possible.”
Alberta’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program provides 120 hours of training, but Sutherland noted 80 of those hours are in the classroom. “So you’re only getting 40 hours behind the wheel [and much] of that is going to be on a lot [doing] maneuvering and things like that. It simply isn’t enough.”
By contrast, he says, Quebec provides over 600 hours of training.
The nature of the province’s climate and economic base also boost the need for safety enhancements, he noted.
“In Alberta, we can have dramatic changes in our weather, just by virtue of geography – if you end up going into the Rockies, things like that,” said Sutherland. “And then, some of the goods these folks are going to be hauling [petroleum products and by-products] could be quite dangerous. We need to make sure these people know how to haul hazardous materials safely.
“We need to start looking at treating the trucking segment as more of an accredited, skilled apprenticeship program, similar to other skilled trades like carpentry or electrical.”
The need is born out by claims statistics, said Sutherland, who noted that between 2016 and 2020, there was a 95% increase in claims in Alberta for all commercial trucks, compared to a 25% increase in Eastern Canada.
“And then, when you look in some of the segments specifically, for trucks operating outside Canada the average size of increase was 92% over the last five years. These are dramatic numbers.”
Those outside-Canada claims mean drivers, and sometimes the fleet operators they work for, are exposed to the U.S. legal system.
“As it relates to liability claims, whenever an accident occurs [in the U.S.], you get significantly larger verdicts coming out of the court system there than we see here,” Sutherland said. “It makes it a much more challenging environment.”
These increases in claims rates, as well as rising loss ratios, has IBC looking at Alberta’s education programs for new truck operators.
“We’ve started to ask questions [like], ‘Are we adequately preparing these individuals to operate safely on our roadways?’ Because, unfortunately, the data suggests otherwise,” said Sutherland. “And when we look at the program itself in Alberta, and we compare that to other jurisdictions, it appears to be quite lacking.”