Growing push for competency-based national licensing

HVNL review submissions spotlight current system’s flaws

Growing push for competency-based national licensing
Industry stakeholders find the current licensing system limiting


Heavy vehicle licensing that is national and competency-based, as opposed to the current state and graduated system, is firming as an industry priority.

The Safe People and Practices element of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) review has seen near-unanimous support for an upheaval of the current framework, which many stakeholders say contributes to safety and driver shortfalls.


From an operator’s perspective, under the current system, prospective drivers are being lost to the industry.

"If we are going to make heavy vehicle driving a career option of choice and develop the workforce of the future, we need to move to a skill and competency-based approach which doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age," Ron Finemore Transport (RFT) founder Ron Finemore says.

"The reality today is that many companies cannot provide a graduated approach through smaller vehicles in addition to the fact many young drivers do not want to work in urban environments where this may be more achievable.

"And the age-based approach creates even worse outcomes in regional and remote areas, with many sectors, not just trucking, seeing workforce availability hitting crisis proportions.

"We used to have a better outcome where many young people grew up and around trucks and could simply continue into that occupation when they were old enough and very much capable of doing so.

"Graduated licensing destroyed this pipeline of willing drivers.

"These prospective drivers go and do something different and are lost forever.

"This also means that truck driving becomes a job of last choice for some which isn’t the right credential for being a professional and safe heavy vehicle driver."

From an enforcement perspective, the current system is conducive to being flouted across multiple jurisdictions.

"Through the analysis of data from sales of the National Driver Work Diary, the Regulator is aware of potential governance oversights … that have resulted in drivers being issued with multiple heavy vehicle driver licences," National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) CEO Sal Petroccitto says. 

"This has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of heavy vehicle driver licencing as it could allow drivers who have had their heavy vehicle drivers licence removed in one jurisdiction to operate under licences obtained in other jurisdictions."

Finemore believes a "one national license" for heavy vehicles would allow for relevant driver safety data to be available for both industry and enforcement purposes in a single system.

"As a principle, I think heavy vehicle drivers and their safety performance should be transparent and they also should not be required to change their license simply because they move to another state.

"This approach is critical so we can jointly continue to improve safety through better assessing and identifying trends that can need be addressed through collaborative education and where necessary, compliance actions."


The NHVR agrees that the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework (NHVDF) should adopt a competency-based approach, rather than a progressive or ‘time served’ approach.

It observes in other industry sectors, skills shortages have resulted in a lowering of competency standards and experience of prospective employees during recruitment, which can "result in poorer safety outcomes", and "that the review should provide for improved heavy vehicle driver licencing standards to counter this, while not introducing unnecessarily burdensome new training requirements".

The NHVR also recommends that the NHVDCF units of competency should include a greater focus on non-technical driving skills that are key elements of safe heavy vehicle operations.

A summary of earlier review topics are available here

The reasoning is that broadening the scope of driver competencies, but treating it as a way of formally upskilling drivers and 'professionalising' the occupation, can "attract entrants and bolster the status and wellbeing of existing participants", Toll general manager road transport safety and compliance Sarah Jones comments.

"Industry and government should work together to develop a matrix of competencies, skills, attributes, attitudes and behaviours designed to support supply chain safety," she says.

"Toll believes that more needs to be done to articulate and promote driver competencies, attributes, behaviours and skills that make for safe people and practices.

"Where drivers are concerned, there are gaps between the expectations set by the licensing system, the HVNL, workplace health and safety laws and state-based road rules.

"Truck driving is about a great deal more than simply operating and controlling a heavy vehicle."


In his submission, Finemore predicts states may not be so willing to give up the licensing mantle.

"I’m guessing there will be state jurisdiction resistance probably justified on perceived financial considerations (and some will say privacy although I consider safety imperatives should override these).

"I also expect IT objections from some state jurisdictions will be encountered where over time I have seen ownership and 'protecting our patch' fights occur without much focus on the desired goals . . ."

Accordingly, Queensland’s Transport and Main Roads (TMR) says: "Matters of driver licensing should remain state-based and not considered as an issue for the HVNL review.

"The current driver licensing system is adequate with sufficient safety measures built in to the graduated licensing model."

Finemore, on the matter, contends: "I consider achieving better safety outcomes should clearly override these objections."

What TMR agrees with, however, is increasing the onus on broader driver competencies.

It suggests "requiring drivers to be appropriately trained in all aspects of the transport task. For example, fatigue management, human factors, mental health awareness, driver on-road behaviour (sharing the road, following too close, engine brake noise) load restraint and pre-trip checks."

"Effective training is an important contributor to improving safety outcomes. Well trained drivers are more likely to display safety related attitudes, manage fatigue and make fewer technical driving errors," it adds.


From a driver perspective, industry advocate Rod Hannifey supports a national standard for heavy vehicle licensing, stressing it must apply in particular to overseas drivers.

However, he points out the financial realities such an approach may pose.

"It must include more than just passing a test around the block," he notes.

"There is far more to driving a truck safely on our roads, than just getting around the block. Load restraint, fatigue management, logbooks etc must be included."

"The problem is the margins are so tight, many companies get to the point of "bums on seats" as they simply cannot afford to pay for the training when a driver starts."

The issue is similarly summarised by Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell, who says the aforementioned solutions would assist SMEs and family enterprises to sustain or grow their business, and plan for future succession – so long as the cost challenges are addressed.

"Training with competency-focused assessments would … enable suitably skilled younger drivers to enter the industry sooner based on competency, not just the passage of time.

"Standardised compliance across jurisdictions would [also] provide certainty," she adds.

Carnell warns that licencing costs must remain accessible for sole traders and SMEs and be priced proportionate to competencies required to safely operate a heavy vehicle.

"While we support the future HVNL goal of encouraging drivers to continuously improve their competencies, consideration of how to best support SMEs is required, as access to training in rural and remote areas is particularly difficult where the time and cost associated with travelling to a training centre may unintentionally exclude SMEs."


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