Truck driver competency reform reaches milestone, but there’s still a long way to go

Last year ended with a modest win for our industry when Australian transport ministers agreed we need consistent driver training and licensing.

Not before time, I can hear an entire industry saying. But we still have a long way to go.

There’s now a National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework Decision Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) to land on the table this year, and it will undergo a consultation process before any new draft regulations see the light of day.

In summary, the RIS recommends:

• 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 plus reduce costs.

• Introducing new experience-based licence-progression pathways allowing drivers to gain higher licence classes more rapidly.

As far as licence upgrades go, drivers would be able to choose a different pathway option such as tenure, driving experience, or completion of a supervised program.

The proposal means drivers would be able to upgrade from a medium rigid licence to a multi-combination licence in as little as six months. That’s in contrast to a minimum of two years under current arrangements.

Based on member feedback, NatRoad has long argued for licence progression built on experience gained behind the wheel and not just elapsed time. The idea that once you’ve spent 12 months on a lower class licence, you’re ready to progress to a higher class without practical experience is nonsense.

Austroads has already consulted extensively about driver competencies and has been charged with developing standards and training that will deliver better heavy vehicle drivers. We certainly need national competencies and licensing systems if we’re to address the serious driver shortages threatening our industry’s viability.

Changes in migration policy should align with this approach. It’s no good bringing in drivers from other countries to fill even short-term gaps if they’re not competent to operate on Australian roads. A succession of federal governments have been aware of this because it’s been a problem for such a long time, but we’ve seen little action.

The Albanese government is showing an intention to move things forward by remaking the immigration system and making it easier for people to come here if they’re going to fill a skill that’s short.

Reforms involving governments take time and the worry is change won’t occur soon enough. Given the shortage of drivers is so entrenched, action is required on a few fronts to tackle the problem. For example, one thing almost all of us agree on is driving heavy vehicles needs to be a more attractive profession in the eyes of young people.

The many positives of driving for a living need to be put front-and-centre.

And we must do more to attract more women to the ranks by providing opportunities and facilities (such as rest areas) that are safe, comfortable, and easy to access. The broader driver shortage policy strategy needs some work.

  • Warren Clark is the CEO of Natroad.

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