Veteran truckie opens up on driver training problems

Paul ‘Sludge’ Andrews, who many would recognise from his regular appearances on Outback Truckers, says improperly trained drivers are posing a risk to other drivers as well as themselves.

Sludge, 54, has been in the driver’s seat for over 30 years and since 2009 has steered his custom 2008 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood, known simply as The Phantom.

Though he’s spent his entire driving career doing long distance and being away from home, he recently made a switch and now operates predominantly throughout Perth. “I don’t want to be away all the time, but every now and then, I still like to head away,” he said.

The decision was also influenced by the recent rise in fuel prices too. “That’s probably another reason why I don’t go away so much any more. A friend was in Broome the other day and fuel was $2.50 a litre. But people can’t get freight rates to cover the fuel prices. When they dropped the price by 22 cents they took away the FTC, so we didn’t gain anything, we actually lost,” Sludge said.

“We’re struggling in Perth because there’s people undercutting and running at really low rates. We’re struggling to get the process up because there’s people doing it all for nothing. Then you add the fuel prices onto it and it’s just ludicrous.”

Sludge believes proper driver training is a big part of the issue. “There are a lot of new drivers who have no idea about how to drive a truck. If you are going to drive a vehicle, you should be able to reverse it. You shouldn’t be driving what you can’t back. There are some guys I’ve been around who can’t even hook their trucks up to a trailer,” he said.

“I have two friends who used to run from Perth to Kalgoorlie who were in their 60s and now they’ve given it up, because the roads have just become too dangerous. The driver training isn’t there and I don’t know how you fix it.

“There are some driver trainers who aren’t training properly, they’re just passing licences out. There needs to be more scrutiny on driver training companies – they really need to be pulled into line.”

Add to that the number of experienced drivers deciding to retire or give up driving for other reasons, and the issue only gets further exacerbated.

“It’s becoming really bad. The trouble is that the older generation of drivers who taught me are just pulling the pin. They don’t want to be out there because it’s getting too dangerous now. Some of the horrific crashes we’re having are because of incompetence. This is a very scrutinised industry. Part of that stems from the early days where there were drug issues and things for some drivers running long distance, but thankfully the industry is cleaning itself up.”

Sludge says he’d like to see more being done to promote trucking as a viable career for young people to get into.

“I believe we need to be getting trucks together and be going out to schools to show young kids that you don’t have to go to uni to have a great career. Driving a truck can be a great thing. It’s a great industry and you get to travel the country and meet so many great people. Though now a lot of that looking out for each other has been lost.

“I couldn’t read or write until about 15 years ago. My kids taught me how to read, but I’ve done alright. I love what I do and I get to travel the country. It’s been a great career for me. I think we need to show young people that you don’t have to go to the mines to make good money. Even if you’re not the smartest kid at school, you can still have a great career driving trucks.”

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