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‘Suddenly, at 70, experience and a good driving record are completely inconsequential’

Reaching a new decade of life in a state of good or even reasonable health is always a milestone worth celebrating, quietly or otherwise.

As a close mate likes to say, “Life is there to be lived, so get on with it.” It’s a maxim which takes on even greater significance as years start to stack up.

But there are those inanely immovable and somewhat insensitive authorities who can make ‘getting on with it’ decidedly difficult for active and capable people at the veteran end of experience. Transport for NSW is one of those authorities.

What follows will be no doubt viewed by some as nothing more than a whinge by an ageing journalist with a capacity for candid commentary. True enough perhaps, but it is also a truthful account of what happens when experience and ability become totally irrelevant to the appeasement of a bureaucratic, indelible line in the sand.

A few months back I hit 70 years of age. Great! I made it this far and as an added bonus, after almost 45 years in the road transport media, I’m still content and capable enough to keep driving and reporting on trucks of every shape, size and brand.

Equally, and gratefully, the world’s leading truck brands still find it worthwhile to offer their latest and greatest creations for honest and practical assessment. I am, of course, not the best driver in the business but nor am I the worst, and the good fortune to drive well is as much a product of the exceptional mentors and professionals I have encountered over many decades as any inherent affinity with heavy trucks and machinery.

Still, it appears none of this counts for anything upon entering the septuagenarian years.

Maybe a month before the big day, a letter arrived from Transport for NSW, bearing the indecipherable signature of someone titled ‘Manager – Licence Review Unit’.

The letter was not unexpected. Since turning 60 a decade ago, there has been the requirement to have a medical test every two years to maintain the national MC – multiple combination – licence I’ve held since the classification was first mandated more than three decades ago, ostensibly to ensure competence behind the wheel of B-doubles and roadtrains.

Like a lot of others though, B-doubles and much bigger combinations had been driven long before the introduction of an MC licence.

Nonetheless, the biennial medical test from 60 years onwards is a rational requirement to protect the safety of both the truck driver and other road users. The medical, however, becomes an annual requirement from 70 years but even at this duration, it’s still a smart move. After all, an annual check-up by a doctor is good practice for anyone at any age.

But then, at 70 there also comes the condition to pass an aged driving test to keep your MC status. Not once, but every single year from that age onwards. Suddenly, at 70, it seems experience and a good driving record are completely inconsequential.

Overnight you’re old, you’re losing your marbles, you could drop dead at any time, you’re not as capable as you were the day before, and maybe you should drive something a little less challenging, you old fart!

You can, of course, try to work with the system but calling the department’s contact number and waiting interminably before someone actually comes on the line, delivers little more than policy platitudes.

Sure, the lady on the phone was polite and pleasant, and purportedly sympathetic, but after a few more minutes checking with her managers, plainly stated that yes, you need to demonstrate your competency every year, the cost is yours and you can either supply your own vehicle – we’re talking about a B-double here – or you can go to a commercial licence assessor.

So alright, how much to sit for an aged driving test in a B-double with a licenced and so-called professional trainer? A quick call to a company specialising in truck licences revealed that half a day to determine you can actually drive a B-double competently costs “about a thousand bucks.” Every year, mind you, plus the department’s administrative costs and obviously, the cost of your time and inconvenience. Every single year.

One more thing, is that in a manual or auto truck? Apparently, there’s not much requirement for manual shifters these days, so driving school prime movers are almost totally autos. “We have manual HR (heavy rigid) trucks,” said the assessor representative on the other end of the line, “but that’s a separate assessment if you want to go that way.” No, I’ll be right thanks.

Weirdly though, Transport for NSW provides an easier and far less expensive option. At 70 years of age, you can select to forego your MC classification and simply swap to a HC – heavy combination – licence and automatically, and quite unbelievably, the requirement for an aged driving test is pushed out to 80 years of age and most surprising of all, the annual medical check-up for a HC doesn’t kick in until you reach 75.

Bingo, stick your MC!

Seriously though, this is a brainless situation. In the modern world of Performance-Based Standards, a HC still allows holders to drive heavy and highly demanding combinations, including truck and dog outfits which nowadays routinely weigh more than any number of B-doubles on local, regional or even linehaul work.

Furthermore, the skill to competently handle a six, seven or eight-axle truck and dog combination can be every bit as challenging as being at the helm of a B-double. Indeed, the truck and dog operator is invariably expected to put the combination into extremely more difficult sites.

Meantime, a HC licence also allows the holder to drive indivisible and oversize loads on a single trailer, apparently even if it’s a low loader with rows-of-eight axles hauling a piece of massive mining machinery.

What’s more, a HC holder can still drive a B-double and more as long as he’s in the cab with the holder of an MC licence. This, in itself, can be a ludicrous situation when a senior person who has despairingly downgraded to a HC licence is quite possibly a far more capable operator than the person in the passenger seat on the other side of the cab who happens to have the right piece of plastic.

Obviously enough, the point of all this is that age should not be the defining factor in determining a person’s suitability to hold an MC licence, particularly with the trucking industry desperate to maintain high standards at a time of severe driver shortage; a shortage invariably cited as a contributing factor in an increasing number of notable trucking companies opting out of the industry altogether.

And while road transports’ representative bodies agitate for relaxation of visa rules to encourage overseas drivers to fill the gap, perhaps an effort to rid the industry of draconian bureaucratic regulations would be a wise and worthwhile way of not only keeping good operators in the system, but also help raise the overall standard which by most estimations continues to slide dramatically, and dangerously.

So, surely a person of sound mind and sound body with decades of experience in MC combinations and a reputable driving record should be encouraged and appreciated, and arguably subject to the same regulatory demands as HC drivers, rather than stigmatised by nothing more than a birthday milestone.

Anything less is prejudice, plain and simple.


  1. It makes sense to have the requirement, many older people struggle to accept or acknowledge once they’re beginning to lose their touch but it’s insane that they expect you to shell out $1000 for the privilege and it’s strange to go from no test in your 60s to an annual test in your 70s

    In my opinion the test should be introduced more gradually and should be covered by the taxpayer, you shouldn’t be punished for remaining fit and healthy enough to continue working

  2. I gained a heavy rigid licence (class 3) in 1963 and an HC (class 5) in 1970. Last year at age of 77 I had to have a new licence issued due to cataract operations and no longer requiring spectacles to drive. Knowing an HC driving test was coming up I chose to go back to a C licence which allowed me to tow my caravan, I no longer had any requirement for an HC. The lass behind counter said, “if you find you need the HC within the next five years, come back in and we can just reissue it”. So at age 79, not having driven any heavy vehicle for 24 years I can simply go in and have my HC licence reissued. We live in a crazy state.

  3. You’re luckier than some. Friends who work as paramedics or in the police have a mandatory retirement age of 65.

  4. What a joke mate totally feel your frustrations these government agencies no matter which state your in have for to long treated those who made a career choice to drive trucks most of us start off at the lowest class light truck or medium rigid moving through the classes Mr Hr then Hc Mc not to mention any other accreditation like BFM afm dangerous goods etc all of which takes years and thousands of dollars learning what other road users have no idea about or would even bother to learn as it’s not a requirement for car drivers to know what a truck driver has to go through or has to learn to even be classed as a compitent and fit to drive which mean nothing to any boss who has a million dollar plus truck combination all about load restraint weight distribution how each and every truck has a different attitude on the road which can’t just be taught in a class room or replicated by choosing a modern automatic prime mover with a pre determined load placed exactly over the axel groups to make up 75% of the maximum load allowed for that class of vehicle. For some reason the powers above us must think that driving any mc combination is some sort of legal drug that they control, and treat us like someone who has an addiction to that drug that has been available for year which comes with annual fees and conditions that are forever changing and that we actually want to take so if your that addicted to it jump through this hoop then hop on 1 leg and finally scratch your bum and while there get your wallet out and give your bank details or you pay cash now. For myself I’ve been in the transport industry for ever and yes I’ve made a few mistakes in my career which I have learnt from. but learning how to take on life with out trucks and with out losing what I’ve worked so hard for is causing me some of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had the thought of having no money to pay bills and keep the life style that driving a b dub or road train has provided me it is something I don’t want to think about and I’m actually seeking help with my mental health and ways to deal with issues the road transport industry has put on me.

  5. I am licenced at a MC level…I don’t disagree with the testing but never could understand what is so different in the way of testing when MC vs HC…
    The cars you drive around are the same..the road signage doesn’t change in size or the way its written….the way in what you operate a single is basically the same as how you operate a double… lets face it if you make a mistake in a single it has the potential to undoubtably cause the same carnage as the same mistake in a double…So what I’m saying is why should the process be any different between the 2 licences

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