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Proposed licensing reforms fail to deliver, says leading driver trainer

A veteran of more than 30 years in the driver training sector believes that a proposed licensing overhaul open for industry discussion this month is fundamentally flawed.

In his detailed feedback summary to Austroads and Frontier Economics, the authors of the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework (NHVDCF), Armstrongs Driver Education CEO Craig Nicholson says the report “fails” with its suggested practical time behind the wheel training and assessment hours.

In response to what it says is industry feedback, Austroads is proposing the following minimum behind-the-wheel periods as part of the overall training program.

  • rigids: 6–8 hours devoted to behind the wheel
  • combinations: 8–10 hours devoted to behind the wheel.

But Nicholson is adamant that “sound education research methodology” was clearly not undertaken before proposing such “highly insufficient” timeframes.

“The proposed 6-10 hours of behind the wheel training is the biggest flaw in the report,” maintains Nicholson.

“With so few hours, it is impossible to teach and offer practice behind the wheel for the 130 plus areas we have identified are required to be able to drive a heavy vehicle at low risk.

“If the researchers have concluded that just one day of practical training, including assessment and reversing, is all that is required, then any credibility this report may have, has been lost.”

“It appears that the researchers contributing to this report do not understand what is actually required to teach people to drive a heavy vehicle at low-risk and without proper consultation/workshops with expert an expert group, followed by important training.

“Falling back on the premise that drivers are able to self-teach and work everything out themselves, is a flawed assumption. In my 36 years of experience in heavy vehicle training and licensing, I can tell you, this is not the case and is a dangerous assumption.”

Nicholson says that placing faith in the National Competencies is also a flawed approach, as it won’t deliver the required consistencies in training between states and territories.

Only specific, highly measurable standards, frameworks, curricula and assessments, such as Armstrongs’ proven Driver Delivery Program (DDP), will get the results, Nicholson believes.

Nicholson says the DPP, which has been up and running from its Melbourne base since 2016, has found that the below training durations are sufficient to produce “safe and low-risk” heavy vehicle drivers.

One-on-one course minimum time frames (normal learning and communication rates)

  • HR auto/synchro (5 days practical plus theory)
  • HR non synchro (6-7 days practical plus theory)
  • HC auto (5 days practical plus theory)
  • HC non synchro (6-7 days practical plus theory)
  • MC auto/synchro (4 days practical plus theory)
  • MC non synchro (5-6 days practical plus theory)

Two-person courses minimal timeframes (normal learning and communication rates)

  • HR auto/synchro (8 days practical plus theory)
  • HR non synchro (10 days practical plus theory)
  • HC auto (8 days practical plus theory)
  • HC non synchro (10 days practical plus theory)
  • MC auto/synchro (6 days practical plus theory)
  • MC non synchro (8 days practical plus theory)

The Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (C-RIS) also recommends three alternate pathways for drivers based on tenure (12 months), solo driving experience or a supervision program for each licence upgrade.

Depending on the licence drivers are hoping to progress to, the supervised driving option route ranges from 420-560 work hours, a minimum period of between 12-16 weeks, and 6-8 hours of supervised behind the wheel sessions.

The driving experience pathway requires evidence of 600-700 hours of driving – dependent on class jump – over a minimum of six months.

Nicholson believes that the proposed two-hour sessions for mentoring are not structurally viable for companies to deliver or service, as wages would be paid on a minimum of four hours, plus travel, in most cases.

The ideal approach would be to use 3 x four-hour sessions (MR to MC2) or 4 x four-hour sessions (MC3).

“Often drivers get their MR/HR license but there are no jobs around. More opportunities occur with the industry looking for HC drivers. These drivers should be able to do a longer training/experience course that skills them up to operate a HC (e.g., a 6 – 8-day HC program) to help with both their and the industry’s needs.”

Nicholson also says that the proposed “expedited” pathways will also not help redress the major imbalance between new license holders and the number of jobs – there are approximately three times as many heavy vehicle licence holders as there are trucks.

“Around 80,000 to 88,000 people obtain their heavy licence in Australia each year. The problem is that the current system doesn’t create low-risk drivers that are employable.

“If the correct training timeframes (practical behind the wheel) and training structure were implemented, this would help with the development of safer, lower risk drivers and improve employment outcomes, which is critical in helping fix the driver shortage.

“One could argue that only half the number of people being licensed is actually required, but if they are trained and licensed properly, a higher number of safer and more employable drivers would be produced.”

The C-RIS is out for discussion until October 28. For more details on how you can have your say, click here.

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