REGINA — A father whose son was killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash says he's worried Saskatchewan's move to relax some trucking rules during the COVID-19 outbreak may mean drivers will be pushed past their limits.
Scott Thomas's son Evan died two years ago when an inexperienced semi driver blew through a stop sign at a rural intersection and into the pathway of the junior hockey team's bus. Sixteen people were killed and another 13 were injured.
Thomas, who has since pushed for mandatory truck driver training, is disappointed the province decided to allow commercial trucks hauling goods needed during COVID-19 outbreak to stay on the road longer than the maximum regulated hours.
The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure says the exemption will stay in place while the province is under a state of emergency.
It says companies should still track the hours of their drivers and drivers should rest when they need to.
"Drivers are encouraged to monitor their own ability and level of alertness," the government says in a statement. "Once a driver determines their ability to operate safely has been reduced, they must take the appropriate measures to get adequate rest."
The exemption applies to trucks hauling medical supplies, groceries, fuel and equipment to build temporary housing.
"I don't think they should be asking truck drivers to decide whether they're fatigued or not," Thomas told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"There's going to be companies that see this as a green light to have their guys drive further hours knowingly."
Thomas points to the actions of the Alberta company that owned the truck involved in the Broncos crash.
Adesh Deol Trucking is no longer in business, but in March 2019 the owner pleaded guilty to not following provincial and federal safety rules. Driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu also pleaded guilty to causing the crash and is serving an eight-year prison sentence.
During his sentencing hearing, Sidhu's lawyer argued Sidhu had been distracted by a flapping tarp on the back of his load of peat moss.
Court heard a report by government officials that Sidhu had 70 logbook violations, and had he been inspected on the day of the collision, would have been taken off the road.
The report also raised concern about the distances Singh had been driving as well as how much time he took to rest.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the change is temporary to ensure essential COVID-19 supplies are delivered to areas as needed and the province is following a similar move by the federal government.
"It's not a decision that came about lightly," Moe said. "We'll be watching it very closely."
Thomas said while the province has made some progress by bringing in mandatory driver training, he sees the COVID-19 change as a step backwards
"You're going to see some truck driver pushing himself, putting himself in a bad situation, fall asleep, get in some type of accident and whatever load he's carrying is going to be useless anyway's because it's going to be spread all over the ditch like that load of peat moss was," he said.
"We saw one distracted driver take 16 souls off the face of the Earth."
This report by The Canadian Press was published March 31, 2020.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press