The VTA received a positive reaction to the column in the last issue of Big Rigs, which dealt with labour shortages and how overhauling our migration system to attract highly-trained and qualified drivers to Australia would go a long way to addressing the crisis.
That article combined licensing and migration reform, outlining what we feel are highly practical solutions that would deliver safer and better trained drivers, irrespective of their country of origin.
Training and licensing have reared its head again with the Austroads’ deadline for responses to its National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework Consultation RIS (Regulation Impact Statement).
The Austroads review was commissioned with the aim of delivering a harmonised Australian license training and assessment framework that produces safe and competent heavy vehicle drivers.
Areas of proposed change are: managing driver risk to ensure eligibility for drivers without serious driving offences; making competency requirements specific to each license class with provision for minimum course length; embedding hands-on experience and minimum behind-the-wheel time pre-licence and supervised driving sessions post-license; and experience-based progression options to progress drivers to higher license classes more rapidly.
Our submission advocated for a nationally-consistent, competency-based licensing regime that prioritises training over experience, largely consistent with the aspirations of Austroads’ proposed changes.
Australia needs thousands of well-trained and capable heavy vehicle drivers to deliver the growing freight task. That starts with effective licensing.
Under the current time-based graduated system, an aspiring driver can only attain the entry level heavy vehicle license at the earliest age of 19, after holding a car license for a year. It then takes another year to graduate to the next level and a further year still before a license can be granted for all heavy vehicles on Australian roads.
This has led to a basic deficiency of the current system where the necessary skills and competencies are being learned on-the-job rather than prior to taking the job.
We also expressed concern that licensing is not sufficiently focused on risk. Heavy vehicle crashes are serious because of their size and weight. It is the skill, knowledge and training of the driver that maintains a safe outcome for all road users. While the current system satisfies the criteria of our institutionalised licensing system, it is not recognised by industry as being able to produce competent, safe, low risk drivers.
Our submission also highlighted the inability of statutory authorities to provide license applicants with the skills and training to ensure they can drive a heavy vehicle in a safe and low risk manner.
Given licensing services are consumed by those wanting to enter the road transport industry, heavy vehicle licensing should prepare applicants by ensuring that they receive adequate practical hands-on training in driving environments they are likely to be exposed to on a daily basis.
On this measure, the VTA opposed Austroads’ proposal for its lack of practical time behind the wheel.
Austroads’ proposed minimum 6-10 hours behind the wheel training for rigid license holders is insufficient and does not provide adequate time to effectively cover the 130 plus areas and competencies required to produce a safe, low risk heavy vehicle driver. This is a major limitation and deficiency of the Austroads proposal.
We also called for focussed training at the ‘front end’ of the licensing process, with adequate time to ensure candidates are well trained before being employed. Drivers will require further on-boarding, but the necessary training must be provided at the beginning of a candidate pursuing a license.
The submission also reaffirmed VTA support for people to be trained at an early age to drive a heavy vehicle, putting it at odds with Austroads. Whilst the Consultation RIS acknowledges ‘some industry members are wanting to explore opportunities to introduce young drivers to heavy vehicle driving at an earlier age’, it indicates driving heavy vehicles at an earlier age is not under active consideration, which is disheartening.
Young drivers will need to be carefully screened for ‘attitude, aptitude and awareness’ but this can be done as a means of prequalifying for admission into a training course. This is essential if we are serious about attracting and providing career pathways for young people and ensuring that we have properly trained heavy vehicle drivers for the future.
- Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association