Re­port ex­poses li­cence flaws

Gap­ing holes are re­vealed in driver train­ing sys­tem

Big Rigs - - SPECIAL REPORT - Bruce Honey­will

TRUCK driv­ers are the elite of road users in Aus­tralia. They have a higher level of skills, far more ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge of the road than the average mo­torist.

There is one caveat to this state­ment, it refers to good truck driv­ers and for­tu­nately that is the ma­jor­ity of truck­ies on our roads.

How­ever, with Aus­tralia’s spik­ing road death toll, the in­ad­e­quacy of train­ing for truck driv­ers has risen as one of the ma­jor safety and im­age is­sues on the high­ways.

There’s noth­ing new about this, truck­ies have known for years of the dan­ger of in­ex­pe­ri­enced truck driv­ers and the ease with which li­cences could be gained from shonky driver train­ing out­fits.

The in­ad­e­quacy of driver train­ing for­mally came to the fore last month with the pub­li­ca­tion of the Re­view of the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Driver Com­pe­tency Frame­work by Aus­troads.

The re­sults of this study were, pre­dictably, not in­spir­ing.

The Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA) picked up the re­port and fired a salvo.

“The truck driver li­cens­ing sys­tem is an in­sult to Aus­tralia’s expert, hard work­ing truck driv­ers and must be fixed,” CEO Ben Maguire said in a me­dia re­lease on May 17.

Yeah Ben, we’ve known about this for a long time, we’ve been shar­ing nar­row bridges in the dark early hours of the morn­ing with ap­proach­ing trucks and know it’s a game of poker with our lives on the line.

Driver com­pe­tency frame­work

In an ef­fort to stan­dard­ise driver train­ing, The Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Driver Com­pe­tency Frame­work was set up in 2011.

While this set of stan­dards car­ries the name ‘na­tional’ it has been adopted only by the three south-east­ern states, New South Wales, Tas­ma­nia and Vic­to­ria.

The Aus­troads’ re­view was com­mis­sioned to gauge the cur­rent state of the frame­work.

The study shows clearly from in­ter­views that the break­down of the tra­di­tional train­ing meth­ods of young, as­pi­ra­tional driv­ers learn­ing as teenagers on ru­ral prop­er­ties and in truck­ing yards and de­pots along with thou­sands of kilo­me­tres sit­ting be­side Dad or an ex­pe­ri­enced driver as an ‘off-sider’ was not given any credit.

This tra­di­tional sys­tem, in many ways an in­for­mal ap­pren­tice­ship, pro­duced some of the best driv­ers on the high­way to­day.

The re­view found that an ap­proach that recog­nised com­pe­tency as op­posed to ‘time served’ in the cur­rent staged sys­tem of Light Rigid (LR), Medium Rigid (MR), Heavy Rigid (HR), Heavy com­bi­na­tion (HC) and Mul­ti­ple Com­bi­na­tion (MC) falls short of reach­ing pro­fi­cient driv­ing stan­dards un­less it is based on gen­uine skill development to en­sure safety out­comes.

The Aus­troads team gath­ered in­for­ma­tion from coro­ners’ re­ports, Se­nate com­mit­tee tran­scripts and in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Vic­to­ria, New South Wales and Western Aus­tralia into the is­sue of heavy ve­hi­cle li­cences and com­pe­tency as­sess­ments by out­sourced train­ing bod­ies in ex­change for money.

The Re­view iden­ti­fied 46 years old as the average age of truck driv­ers in 2018.

Only 4.8 per cent of truck driv­ers to­day are in the 20 to 24 age group com­pared to a 10.8 per cent average across all oc­cu­pa­tions, show­ing the transport in­dus­try is not at­tract­ing young peo­ple.

Twenty-eight per­cent of truck driv­ers fall in the 35 to 44 age group com­pared to only 22 per cent across all oc­cu­pa­tions.

This could re­flect the late en­try of work­ers to the in­dus­try, many of whom en­ter through the li­cens­ing sys­tem.

In­sur­ance com­pany NTI found 20 per cent of driv­ers aged 46 to 60 had less than 10 years ex­pe­ri­ence.

For a long time the in­dus­try has been rife with sto­ries of shonky train­ing busi­nesses set up to meet the needs of the short­age of truck driv­ers, peak­ing dur­ing the labour scarcity of the re­sources boom of some years ago.

Driver short­age puts pres­sure on em­ploy­ers to send a newly li­censed driver on a long-haul in­ter­state run as long as he or she meets the le­gal re­quire­ments of a par­tic­u­lar state or ter­ri­tory.

The ba­sic re­quire­ments un­der the law is only that the driver is li­censed for the par­tic­u­lar truck or com­bi­na­tion. A short two-day Dan­ger­ous Goods course must be com­pleted for driv­ers haul­ing DG and if a driver is of a par­tic­u­lar age there are manda­tory health checks.

While many transport com­pa­nies have in-house train­ing pro­ce­dures in place, there is no leg­isla­tive man­date for this to oc­cur. So the way is clear for not-so-scrupu­lous op­er­a­tors to send driv­ers out with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence.

How does a truck driver be­come expert?

Not by the li­cens­ing process. A high level of skills are de­vel­oped by thou­sands of hours of driv­ing, in some cases mil­lions of kilo­me­tres.

Ex­pe­ri­enced truck driv­ers have their skills honed to in­stinc­tual re­ac­tion and build the ex­pe­ri­ence to ne­go­ti­ate po­ten­tial ac­ci­dents.

This level of ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing on the wide va­ri­eties of roads, ne­go­ti­at­ing the na­tion’s cities, learn­ing safe load­ing and un­load­ing prac­tices, ac­quir­ing skills to make run­ning re­pairs of­ten in ad­verse weather con­di­tions, be­ing able to safely se­cure and mon­i­tor loads comes only with time and many thou­sands of kilo­me­tres.

These skills can­not be learned with brief one day or two day li­cence cour­ses.

The cur­rent fo­cus across the na­tion is on get­ting a li­cence rather than long-term skills development and train­ing.

Most li­cence train­ing barely touches on the knowl­edge re­quired of how the weight of the unit re­acts to dif­fer­ent weather and traf­fic con­di­tions, how a trucks han­dle dif­fer­ent ge­o­graphic con­di­tions such as de­scend­ing or climb­ing hills.

Li­cens­ing does not de­velop that unique abil­ity of truck driv­ers to drive a kilo­me­tre ahead of where they are, crys­tal-balling likely ac­ci­dents be­fore they hap­pen.

Gain­ing a li­cence does not de­velop these abil­i­ties and this is what the Aus­troads’ re­view ex­poses. Train­ing’s black hole One im­por­tant area driver skills is left out of the li­cens­ing sys­tem: fa­tigue man­age­ment.

It de­fies logic that an area iden­ti­fied as one of the main causal fac­tors of truck-related road deaths is fa­tigue man­age­ment yet the ap­proach in all states and ter­ri­to­ries is based on com­pli­ance and en­force­ment.

For sure, would-be driv­ers might be taught to fill out a work di­ary and un­der­stand the driv­ing time lim­i­ta­tions.

But man­ag­ing fa­tigue is a black hole in driver train­ing based on li­cens­ing pro­to­cols.

Yet we know that fa­tigue man­age­ment can be learned. It must be learned!

Ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers take it for granted, you learn al­most by os­mo­sis. You learn to stay alive.

But think back. In the early days of a ca­reer in in­ter­state haulage, es­pe­cially ex­press work, you re­mem­ber how a Bris­bane to Mel­bourne run seemed a hell of a long way.

We bat­tled with fa­tigue and slowly learned, over time, to man­age our own bi­o­log­i­cal clock.

We got to know the routes, where you needed to be at a par­tic­u­lar time, to know you were on sched­ule, where you could grab half an hour here or an hour there.

These are im­por­tant skills of a long dis­tance driver and very dif­fer­ent to the pro­scribed times of the work di­ary sys­tem.

To this day lit­tle is made of learn­ing ac­tual fa­tigue man­age­ment even though such a hul­la­baloo raised by bureau­cra­cies, com­pli­ance and en­force­ment agen­cies and re­searchers.

The Aus­troads’ re­view has ex­posed se­vere in­ad­e­qua­cies in the na­tion’s driver train­ing regime and the flawed and lim­ited ac­cep­tance of the Com­pe­tency Frame­work.

Where does that leave us? No dif­fer­ent than a month ago with bureau­cra­cies stick­ing to pre­scrip­tive en­force­ment rather than bit­ing the bul­let and ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing safety on the road where it counts, sup­port­ing the per­son be­hind the steer­ing wheel!

❝ The truck driver li­cens­ing is an sys­tem in­sult to Aus­tralia’s expert, hard work­ing truck driv­ers. — Ben Maguire, CEO ATA

DRIVER TRAIN­ING: Truck driv­ers are the elite of road users, but will shonky driver train­ing change that in the fu­ture?

The re­view was com­mis­sioned to gauge the cur­rent state of driver train­ing.

PHOTO: DAVID VILE

The train­ing sys­tem needs an ur­gent over­haul, says the ATA.

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