UK truckie shocked by ‘easy’ test for truck licence in NSW

A truckie who moved to Australia from the UK has said he was “shocked” by how easy it is to get a truck driving licence in NSW.

Richard Palmer, who is originally from Nottingham in England, worked as a truck driver for 15 years before he moved to Wollongong almost a decade ago.

When he arrived in Australia, he had to re-sit his truck driving assessments.

“I had to do my HR and my HC here, and then I did my MC only about a year ago,” he said.

“I was very surprised at how easy it is to get a licence here.”

Palmer, 45, said that in the UK, truck driving tests are carried out by a state body, as opposed to private companies.

“The school that you train with can’t test you, you have to be tested by a government authority,” he said.

“When tests are being done over here by registered training organisations, there are a lot of holes there and a lot of potential for it to not be done right.”

Palmer said that when he did the UK equivalent of a heavy rigid driving test, he had to undertake a five-day training course.

When he moved to NSW, he only had to do six hours of training before his test.

“Obviously the test wasn’t a big deal for me because I had been driving for years before this, but I was amazed by how quick the process is here,” he said. 

Later, when he went to a driving school in Sydney to get his MC licence, he was astounded when reversing wasn’t part of his final assessment. 

“I just went ‘What the f**k?’” he said.

“In the UK, you have to do a reversing manoeuvre in the test yard.

“You start in one bay, then you have to move the truck over 4m to the left, and then reverse it back and stop with the truck inside a 2m board.

“You have to do that successfully and you have to demonstrate that you can do an emergency stop, or you don’t even leave the test grounds.”

Although truckies going for a MC licence do have to demonstrate that they can reverse a rig during the training process, Palmer doesn’t think this is good enough.

“It’s just a ticked box from your instructor before you actually go on for the test,” he said.

“You have a new person who does your test – not your original instructor – so the person who decides whether you pass has never actually seen you reverse a truck.”

Another thing Palmer said he didn’t have to do during his MC test was splitting up trailers.

“I arrived and I hooked two trailers up and that’s how it stayed throughout the test,” he said.

“Again, it’s a box that they tick off during the training but it’s not part of the actual test.

“In the UK, they have a yard where the examiner watches you hooking and unhooking a trailer.”

Palmer, who transports dangerous goods, said he usually feels safe on the roads – but that’s because he trusts his own judgement and ability to react to situations.

“You have to be alert 100 per cent of the time,” he said.

“I feel safe because of my own driving ability, and I won’t put myself into a position where I feel unsafe.

He added: “I had a situation recently, for example, where I hung back because I could see a driver in a B-double who was wandering across the lanes and into the emergency lane.

“The truck was getting pulled, and the trailer was swinging around.

“He was going slower than me, but I wasn’t going to take that risk and try to overtake him.”

An experienced driver-trainer and assessor, who didn’t want to be named, agreed with Palmer that it was too easy to get a truck licence in NSW.

The trainer said there are just 15 competencies drivers need to pass for an MC licence with the first 14 trained and assessed by the first instructor.

Then they swap out with the final assessor doing a roughly hour-long final competency assessment.

A Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson said it was committed to maintaining high standards in driver training and assessment to ensure that “customers get a licence to drive heavy vehicles safely”.

The process is the same for all licence holders, including those from overseas.

TfNSW also confirmed that while a learner’s ability to reverse and uncouple trailers is assessed during the training process, it is not part of the final assessment for a multi-combination licence.

“Transport has established minimum training course times and mandates that participants log mandatory training and assessment hours before taking a final competency assessment,” the spokesperson said.

“During this time the trainer evaluates whether the applicant has reached the required skill level to be marked as competent for each of the specific criterion applicable to the heavy vehicle licence class.

“For the multi-combination licence class an applicant must demonstrate competency for both Criterion 14 (coupling/uncoupling) and Criteria 11 (reverse).

“The final competency assessment further tests competency for on-road specific criterion. Competency for coupling/uncoupling and reversing is not further tested during this final assessment.”

TfNSW has used the RTO-based approach to delivering the Heavy Vehicle Competency Based Assessment program since 2014. 

Speaking at the ATA’s national conference last week, general manager of programs for Austroads Paul Davies said there are plans in place to improve training and licensing systems across Australia as part of a review of the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework.   

“Between industry feedback, various research and other evidence, there’s an opportunity here to improve in heavy vehicle driver licencing, in particular, around competencies and assessment, but also licencing policy,” he said.

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