It is no longer about jumping in a truck and getting the load from A to B as quickly as possible and damn the consequences. This attitude comes from a time back in the seventies and eighties when there was little real regulation of trucking and a laissez faire attitude from customers about how the road transport operator got the job done.
Times have changed as the emphasis on safety and responsibility have come into focus. As safety initiatives began to reduce the road toll, trucking operations began to see the value of schemes like TruckSafe and the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation scheme. The trucks and trailers became safer and business practices within the operations began to become more responsible.
The larger transport customers began to look for reassurance, to be more certain the operators hauling goods out of their factory gates were acting responsibly and there was not bad behaviour among their contractors, which could reflect back badly upon them.
One of the areas which didn’t see any change in requirements was in driver licensing. Employers could ascertain the driver had passed a test for the LR, HR, HC or MC license they held and could run a license check to check the license was valid, but that was the limit. There was no piece of paper available to vouch for the driver’s aptitude for the work and how well they handled the task.
It’s a simple idea. There is a two day course for any driver in which they get training in safe, efficient and responsible driving both in a theoretical and practical form. It is a way for an experienced driver to prove they are good at their job and deserve a good employment opportunity. It is also a method for the trucking operator to demonstrate to their customer the operation is safe and responsible.
The basic principles being applied to driving behaviour come from what is called the Hendon System of Vehicle Control. This is something which originated from the Hendon UK police academy in 1936. The basic precepts still work in the modern environment.
The system takes a task like driving up to and through a particular intersection or any other manoeuvre which could be regarded as a hazard, breaks it down into individual steps. The important thing is to do the steps in sequence, meaning the driver only has to think of one action at a time.
This may sound complicated, but once the driver gets their head around it, the execution can be quite simple. There are some key principles involved which were laid out by course trainer Warren Smith, DECA’s Transport Heavy Vehicle Manager.
The system does help as the driver concentrates one thing at the time. Approaching a roundabout, for example, the first task is to decide the course the truck will be taking around the roundabout. The next thing it to communicate this information to other road users. Have a look around in the mirrors and then use the indicators to tell them where you are going.
Now it’s time to get ready to do the manoeuvre, reaching the right speed in the gear to get the truck around the roundabout with having to change down. The driver is now ready to make the move, head into the roundabout ready for anything.
If there is traffic coming, it’s simply a matter of stopping and then setting off when it’s clear, if the road is clear, then the truck is in the right gear to power onto the roundabout and head out on the correct exit. Getting the power right keeps the trailer under control and in the right place. The driver checks this in the mirror as they make the manoeuvre.
It may sound like a lot to think about, but an experienced truck driver is doing this hundreds of times a day in the normal course of doing their job. Being forced to think about it in this way puts the skill levels in a different light, reinforces good behaviours and makes the driver think twice about bad behaviours. It’s not about teaching an old dog new tricks, it’s more like polishing up the old tricks.
Once this first drive is over it’s time for a recap and a multiple choice exam which the constitutes the theory part of the assessment. If you have have genuine on road truck experience, have been listening and don’t have a memory like a sieve you should be able to get through this. Once this is over it’s back to the trucks for the final assessment.
Any driver would get nervous with someone sat in the truck’s passenger seat with a clipboard and making regular notes and ticking boxes about the driving on display. For this driver it was a matter of trying to drive as normally as possible, trusting to the instincts and making the usual choices, while keeping the examiner’s stated requirements in the back of mind.
It can be difficult driving in a town you have never spent any time in, and it was certainly the case here. At the end of the day, it is simply a matter of letting the best instincts and the stuff which has been stressed in the course do the work.
We all think we are good drivers, once we have clocked up more than a few kilometres, and can feel we have got the job down pat. Complacency is the biggest enemy to the safety of a truck and its driver.
Every now and then we might get a scare when we get a close call. This can shake us out of our complacency.We start to drive better and learn from the close cal, however, it is very easy to slip back into bad habits.
One of the values of this course is the way all of the good habits are laid out for the driver, explained and then reinforced out on the road. We can go straight back to our bad habits after completing the course, but the newer safer way is often easier, and certainly makes driving a more relaxed experience. Often it is simpler to be safer.
On the day of the course the gods were with us and no major incidents occurred en route. Once back in the classroom congratulations were the order of the day. We passed and the relief was palpable. What was the score, well, that remains confidential!