Tougher tests for new drivers under proposed licensing revamp

A new nationwide framework for licensing heavy vehicle drivers is recommending a broader range of competency elements be incorporated as mandatory skill requirements for new recruits.

The proposed competencies are outlined in a detailed licensing system review by Austroads which was tasked by transport ministers into looking at ways of improving the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework.

The suggested changes are documented in a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (C-RIS) which is now out for industry feedback until October 28.

The proposed competencies cover a range of broader elements including, load restraint; checking for load shift; pre and post trip checks; and some basic maintenance tasks (e.g. drive belt check, checking fluids). 

In the 116-page C-RIS, Austroads said industry is concerned that some drivers are gaining a licence without the requisite core skills for driving a heavy vehicle safely. 

The following are examples of skill-related issues that have been reported in prospective or newly employed drivers: 

• Missed synchro uphill gear changes 

• Rollovers within first few weeks of employment 

• Persistent hitting of shopfront eaves in narrow laneways 

• Lack of knowledge about coupling and uncoupling dollies and trailers 

• Inability to safely and confidently reverse into loading bays 

• Lack of confidence in steering semi-automatic triple and quad road trains.

 “These observed deficits in licensed drivers support the need to strengthen skill and knowledge building as part of licence training and assessment,” said the report.

“When industry cannot rely on driver training and licensing to put the necessary focus on building driver capability in these competencies, then the cost of doing this falls on industry and society more generally where inadequate capabilities lead to an increase in the risk of crashes.”

Two experience-based pathways have also been developed and are proposed to operate in conjunction with the existing route of holding a licence for 12 months before being allowed to progress into a bigger truck.

These pathways will enable drivers who wish to move into more productive heavy vehicles to do so after demonstrating that they have gained experience in lower class vehicles. 

A driver will be able to choose which pathway best suits them. They may choose a different one at various points in their progression up the licence classes (e.g., via tenure when going from MR to HR and driving experience when going from HR to HC). 

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