MELT program necessary but costly, in more ways than one

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Being thoroughly trained to operate a truck and trailer is incredibly important. It’s been a little over two years since the fatal Humboldt Broncos bus crash with a truck and trailer unit which claimed 16 lives, injured 13, and spurred an inquiry into how truck drivers are trained and licensed.

The accident, and others like it, prove that additional training for 1A drivers is necessary to ensure safety standards for all drivers, and subsequent changes to the delivery of training have been implemented across the Prairies. The Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program applies to new drivers of tractor/trailer units with three or more axles, equipped with air brakes, as well as to bus drivers. The program was implemented on September 1, 2019 in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Rail blockades this past winter and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that the trucking transportation industry is a vital cog in the agricultural operations wheel, among other systems.

Farmers who don’t have their 1A or who have farmhands that need their 1A must juggle the task list in order to send their help (or themselves) for the 121.5 hours of training. Splits between time in-class, time in-yard, and time in-cab vary between Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

The cost of a 1A driver’s license isn’t just about the time it takes to complete the training, it’s also about getting funding for the program in time for harvest season and the total amount of money for training and labour time lost. These added costs for training may become a barrier to farmers who need to use a semi for hauling grain during harvest and into the winter.

There are some exemptions for drivers in the ag industry such as an F endorsement (in Saskatchewan), where the holder can drive a farm vehicle that normally requires a Class 1 driver’s license within a 100 km radius of the address on the vehicle registration and are restricted to operating within Saskatchewan borders. In all three provinces, new 1A drivers in the agricultural industry will have until March 1, 2021, to pass the MELT knowledge and road tests.

The time and money costs for MELT training are great, but the resulting cost of unsafe or inexperienced driving is potentially much greater. Still, farmers and farm employees will have to navigate added training restrictions due to COVID-19 distancing measures, and carve out the extra budget and time to get up to speed on training.

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