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CILTA looks at ways to improve truck driver skills after HV licencing

CILT-Australia national chair of education Kim Hassall looks at ways heavy vehicle drivers can improve their competency after receiving licencing

Heavy vehicle driver licencing is becoming a major talking point in the local transport industry. For many years, anecdotal feedback has suggested that post-licencing driver buddying or mentoring schemes are delivering significant driver benefits.

My question is how well trained, or competent, are new drivers when they come out of an RTO or a TAFE training centre, and how do drivers perform when they upgrade to a heavier class licence?

Does post licencing driver supervision also deliver benefits for upgraded heavy vehicle drivers?

Here’s a point for reflection: a South Australian magistrate, following a heavy vehicle driver fatality in 2024, determined that “holding a heavy vehicle licence is a regulatory requirement that ensures a minimum, but not always sufficient, standard of competence”.

The magistrate goes on to say that the operator recognised this because it “employed a person to assess the competence of the drivers it employed”. Therefore, this meant that there was no practical reason for not assessing the driver’s competence in gear selection for a descent of a freeway before he was directed to driver a vacuum truck down the freeway.

This determination did cast doubt on the relationship between a heavy vehicle licence and required competency. For comparison, even a recreational air pilot’s licence, and a 25 metre coastal sea ship/boat masters’ licence, have very significant training times in weeks, exams and both require compulsory licence maintenance programs.

Heavy trucks licences, however, can be gained with only hours of training and no compulsory licence maintenance programs. In a major recent heavy vehicle licencing study, a four hour heavy rigid licence could be gained and even, in just five hours, a multi-combination licence could be signed off.

However, there are many heavy driver RTOs that do offer real quality.

So, if no significant training happens before getting a heavy vehicle licence, then what about getting some degree of competency oversight post heavy vehicle licensing?

Over a six month period in late 2022, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Australia (CILTA) undertook two large surveys to try and quantify the benefits of a ‘Driver Supervisor program’.

The survey showed quite tangible benefits for such a heavy vehicle driver supervisor program. The benefits warranted enough attention to successfully gain funding through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiatives program to develop such a ‘Driver Supervisor’ package. Figure 1 tells part of the story.

Often a buddy/mentor will go out with a new driver. Some companies have quite detailed programs already, but these are not all that common. From the survey, respondent companies, what they provided in the way of driver risk reduction, and confidence in the driver, after spending blocks of time with the driver, is reflected in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Confidence and Risk Mitigation gained through a driver supervisor program

Image: CILTA

Figure 1 reflects the surveyed benefits attained when a driver supervisor spends one or more blocks of four hours with a new or just upgraded licensed driver.

In brief, driver risk declines by about one per cent for every hour spent with the driver. Confidence levels improve by about four times this amount.

Risk reduction is perhaps the more salient measure when we undertake the future benefit cost analysis. Insurers and health and safety entities may also lean this way.

The survey is continuing with lots of follow-up interview to come as the Driver Supervisor program is compiled. Watch this space.

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