Careers & Training, News

Calls grow to tighten driver training and assessment standards

Truckies’ advocate Wes Walker has had a gutful of poorly trained drivers.

The last straw for Walker, who is at the frontline of the issue as the unofficial sheriff at the busy Gatton breakdown pads in Queensland, was watching two truckies bungle a recent changeover.

Walker helped as much as the drivers would allow him to, but was called away to another meeting in town before the pair could get on the road.

A few hours later he got a frantic call from another truckie on site pleading with him to come back to the pads to sort out the resulting mess – the trailer in question had unhitched from the prime mover, blocking the main roundabout in and out of the facility for several hours.

“I thought one of them [the dog runner] was just a passenger, because he had no idea how to even guide the dolly back on,” Walker said.

“How were they going to make it to Adelaide? It’s just a blessing that the trailer was dropped on the roundabout because what might have happened out on the open road?”

Walker said he doesn’t blame the drivers in this scenario, or any of the many others he encounters lacking basic skills. He points the finger squarely at the Department of Transport and Main Roads, the state agency responsible for licensing drivers up to the MC level.

“It’s the people handing the licences out who are to blame here,” he said.

“Everyone’s entitled to make a living, no matter what nationality you are. Nine out of 10 dropped trailers out here [at Gatton] are done by blokes who aren’t from overseas.

“Due care and professionalism has gone out the window. I’ve had to help them do tarps because they don’t even know how to put a tarp on nowadays.”

A TMR examiner, who spoke to Big Rigs on the condition of anonymity, said he was shocked to discover that the agency was promoting staff to driver examiner roles without them ever having driven in a professional on-road role themselves.

A recent job advertisement for a regional Queensland examiner on Seek also made no mention of the need for on-road professional experience as a driver.

The only licence qualification, according to the same job ad, was that applicants had to possess a current open HR driver licence, held for a minimum of 12 months.

“They can then apply for the job and go testing people,” our source confirmed.

“Some of the staff have worked there for years and have only done their HR licence from working there, and then they test people as well.”

The TMR examiner tells us those same examiners are now handing out truck licences in Queensland without any on-road experience. Their only qualification is that they have held an HR licence for 12 months.

A TMR uses internal driving examiners to conduct practical driving tests for all vehicle types except motorcycles and MC vehicles. It’s the only jurisdiction in Australia that doesn’t allow RTOs to train and licence across the board.

When the insider raised his concerns, he said he was told it was a common practice to promote TMR staff into these roles, based on the number of years on staff, rather than time in a truck cab.

The source tells Big Rigs that the same thing is happening in driving schools, which can also dish out MCs.

A well-placed registered training organisation boss, who has been training inside and out of government departments for more than 20 years, said he’s seen a “big slip” in the quality of drivers coming through the system in the last few years.

He said the issue has only been exacerbated by the wait to be tested – the worst delays he’s seen in 20 years – which is putting added pressure on TMR to find more examiners.

“If you don’t have the practical knowledge and experience to handle 50-, 60-, 70-, 80-tonne driving down the road, the piece of paper is not going to help you if you physically can’t do it,” said Brian, (a pseudonym we’ve given him to protect his identity).

“I think that’s where a major part of the shortfall is coming from, the inexperience of people that are in positions that physically can’t go and do the job themselves.

“If we’ve got assessors in that department [TMR] that have got zero experience driving a heavy vehicle, how can they assess someone driving a truck?

“When you see what we’ve got going out on our roads with licences, it is absolutely and totally frightening.”

Wes Walker blames those handing out the licences, not the drivers. Image: James Graham

He said that in 20 years in the job as a trainer, he’s never once had an audit done by the government agency on his skills and standards.

He pays $500 for his annual driver training ticket and that’s it.

“I have a blue card in my wallet that says I’m a driver trainer and once I got that ticket, I don’t have to demonstrate my skills at all.”

Brian said he chose to speak out because the situation has got so dire something needs to change.

“We have to look at a truck driver’s workplace as being out on the road, and everyone has got the right to go to work and come home safely,” he said.

“If we’ve got people out on the road who have had an advantage in getting into that workplace, it raises alarms and concerns for me.

“I want my family to be able to drive out on the road and feel confident that the people that are driving heavy vehicles, in particular, have met the same requirements.

“We’re one state. We should have one blanket criteria that we’ve got to meet, and we don’t have that.”

Brian believes tightening up on the skill standards of the assessors would be a great start to fixing the problem.

“Why would it be that somebody who has never driven a truck down the road, that cannot drive a truck competently, why should they be in a position to be able to say to somebody that I’ll issue you with a licence?”

Queensland Trucking Association CEO Gary Mahon wouldn’t comment on the standards of the TMR examiners but believes block booking assessments will help take some of the pressure off the system.

“Most fleets are still struggling to get drivers, so we need a reliable supply,” Mahon said.

“One of the impediments we’re running up against is that RTOs are getting the people trained and then having to wait too long to have them assessed to get a licence.”

At deadline for this issue, Mahon said he was due to meet TMR to discuss the possibility of a “better arrangement” for block booking testing.

“It might be on a Saturday, or might be a day during the week, and if the RTOs have got the supply, they’ll make the examiner available to be able to roll them through.”

A TMR spokesperson told Big Rigs that its driving examiners have a detailed understanding of the Queensland Driver Licence Assessment guidelines (QSAFE), “which are used to ensure consistency and fairness in testing procedures, supporting a higher level of safe driving and overall road safety”.

“We are committed to continually enhancing the expertise of our driver examiners. This is reflected by providing additional training and diverse on-road experiences. The nature of the extra training may vary from region to region, ensuring a tailored approach to skill development,” the spokesperson said.

“Any change to allow RTOs to conduct testing for additional licence classes would present a range of complexities that would need to be addressed. This includes an extensive, mature and capable auditing system supported by increased resources to ensure a robust framework.

“For these reasons, TMR is not currently considering making changes to its current driver training or driver testing framework.”


  1. all these association leaders who Have in put into driver training should be made to disclose if they have a truck license or have driven 1

  2. This is the same as those who conducted the dangerous goods licensing when they were first introduced , I stirred up the instructor when I informed him that just to fill up a truck 600 litre fuel tank every one would need a DG license .
    He had never operated a truck, he had been employed to conduct the coarse so when I told him that much of what he was instructing didn’t make sense he became flustered .

    The Qld accident avoidance course is a joke for us who had survived the entire length of the east coast to all points west without hitting anything else to have to sit there waiting for it to conclude I found was a waste of my time .
    The course is perfect for anyone starting off driving any form of vehicle to make them aware of what to expect out there towards the horizon .

    Much the same with Qld Transport when I transferred my license from the NT I had to sit a test and one question was why I had to tarp my load and my reply was to contain the load .
    I failed that question so I invited the office lady outside to see the truck I was driving carting grain and pointed out to her the skirt tarps and explained what their use was and of the cap tarp .
    The nice lady was very impressed and explained how she agreed with how I answered the test and apologized but told me she had to comply with the answers that were attached to that test even though she could clearly see that my answer was correct .

    All government heavy transport departments should be run by retired drivers who won’t pass a person who is not qualified to operate any size of truck until they confident in knowing what they are doing is safe for themselves and every other road user .

    1. All new drivers should be tested by a competent instructor one who has driven for years. New import drivers should be tested by an Australian instructor to be competent. When I got my licence you had to go up classes lr Mr hr hc mc now it’s go from a lr to an mc with a course it’s a joke. Maybe if it was like an apprenticeship and companies paid a decent wage we wouldn’t get idiots from overseas and no one really wanting to get into the industry because we are used as a cash cow

  3. You guys over East need to take a lesson from WA
    We have to go through a strict training regime to even become a trainer and then the same to become an Assessor which is assessed over 4 days with Department of Transport

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