Australia’s transport and infrastructure ministers have made an in-principle agreement to an improved, nationally consistent approach to heavy vehicle driver training and licence progression.
The National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework Decision Regulation Impact Statement (Decision RIS) proposes a series of reforms to improve road safety and productivity.
The in-principle changes contained within the framework are designed to increase the safety and job readiness of heavy vehicle drivers. They were endorsed this month (December 2023) at the Infrastructure and Transport Ministers Meeting.
The Decision-RIS proposals include:
- Strengthening heavy vehicle driver skills and knowledge through redesigned learning and assessment requirements specific to each licence class.
- Requiring minimum course lengths and minimum behind-the-wheel time
- Delivering some training and assessment online to allow licence applicants flexibility to undertake the training when and where it best suits them and reduce costs.
- Introducing new experience-based licence-progression pathways to allow drivers to gain higher licence classes more rapidly. For each licence upgrade, drivers would be able to choose a different pathway option: tenure, driving experience, or completion of a supervision program.
Once the pathways are in place, drivers would be able to upgrade from a medium rigid licence to a multi-combination licence in as little as six months – instead of a minimum of two years under current arrangements.
It’s argued that this rapid progression would be available because of the risk mitigation strategies being introduced, which include:
- Requiring driving experience, not just a 12-month period on a lower class licence which may involve no actual behind the wheel time.
- Providing fastest progression to drivers who have also been mentored by an experienced professional driver.
- Putting in place minimum training and assessment times addressing the number of unusually short courses which are currently available.
- More fully defining the competencies that must be progressively developed and demonstrated, and building in practical learning and application throughout the learning process.
Austroads was invited to work with registration and licensing authorities to improve the current approach to driver licensing after transport ministers identified that the existing approach to training and licensing was flawed and needed improvement.
In January 2022, the National Cabinet agreed that Austroads would, through its review of the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework, consider ways to increase the number of skilled and safe heavy vehicle drivers.
Austroads published a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) in August 2022 and consulted for over nine weeks and in that time received over 250 submissions.
Austroads will now develop best-practice standards and training material to support the consistent delivery of the enhanced heavy vehicle competencies and assessments.
Austroads chief executive Geoff Allan thanked ministers and agencies for supporting its proposals and for their contributions to ensure the package meets the needs for improved safety and productivity, while considering the practical implications for heavy vehicle driver trainers and for the road freight and bus and coach industries.
“Major national reform is always challenging. This process, and the road safety and productivity benefits it will deliver, demonstrate Australia’s cooperative federalism at work. The states and territories have agreed to changes that could be challenging to implement, in order to achieve a better overall outcome for the Australian community. This deserves to be recognised and applauded,” Allan said.
“Ministers have been considering a range of options to improve the safety of trucks and buses, and we have appreciated working with them and their departments.”
Allan added that recent incidents have highlighted the need for significant change.
“The changes will facilitate the delivery of harmonised heavy vehicle training and assessment, strengthening driver competencies and improving licensing policy to fast-track job readiness,” he said.
Austroads will work with each state and territory government and the different industries to fully scope the implementation program, identify policy, service and stakeholder issues and options, and seek to collaboratively develop a coordinated plan to deliver the anticipated safety and productivity benefits of the reform.
“We will be actively engaging with the driver training and heavy vehicle industries, providing information as well as opportunities for input into on-the-ground delivery elements,” explained Allan.
“National project scoping and resolution of policy and related issues will be undertaken in stages with Australia’s transport ministers kept up to date on both national and jurisdictional progress.”