The ProDriver course is part of a group of courses which have been developed by DECA in recent years as fleets have begun to realise there is a need for some form of formal recognition of the kinds of skills professional truck drivers need.
The first thing you notice on arriving at DECA is the informal attitude taken by the staff. Many of the trainers spent time working as truckies, so the kind of banter drivers indulge in is also evident in the classroom as the initial stages of the training begin.Everyone gets to chat about their experience in the trucking industry and what they have done. This works as an effective ice-breaker and also allows the trainer to get an idea of the kind of drivers they will be dealing with.
Unfortunately, for the course Diesel attended there were on two participants. Others had cancelled due to pressure of work in a period of rising freight demand and a driver shortage. The usual courses will run with more drivers, but with a small number the attention of the trainer can be on individual needs and the course also is over more quickly.
Once we know who we all are, the theory starts in earnest. Clear ground rules need to be set and the basic principles around good driving practice need to be explained and driven home. There are pop quizzes on a regular basis just to make sure the students are listening and understand the bullet points.
There’s also some practical technical talk about the truck and how the main components work and relate to each other. This may sound a little like being taught how to suck eggs by some drivers, but this driver learnt something new about the clutch brake, over forty years after starting in trucking. Luckily this theoretical stuff takes place before lunch, avoiding the post lunch drowsiness which can afflict drivers in a warm classroom.
After lunch it’s off into the truck and a drive for each participant on a varied course, in this case, in and around Shepparton. The trainer is wanting to see how each driver performs in their natural environment and also to see if they are acting on some of the messages from the morning sessions.
Once completed the trainer can draw some conclusions about the driving standards and talk about them generally with the group and individually with the driver. Hints and tips are given and ways to improve in particular areas come out at this point.
Next is one of the more interesting parts of the course. It is a drive around the same course as all of the students have just attempted, but this time with the trainer driving and providing a running commentary on what they are looking out for, what the are thinking about and pointing out potential hazards.
There are also demonstrations of the use of coasting to reduce fuel use, early gear changing to enter intersections in a more controlled manner, when to use the accelerator to keep better control of the trailer, etc. etc.
Discussion after this seems to be all about getting down to the finer details of being a good driver, swapping tips and ideas. The first day ends with the driver having plenty to think about overnight.
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.