Lives at risk as inexperienced truckies let loose on the road

Fatal truck accidents have increased since the horror tanker crash on Mona Vale Road, in Sydney, in 2013. Photo: Tim Pascoe
Fatal truck accidents have increased since the horror tanker crash on Mona Vale Road, in Sydney, in 2013. Photo: Tim Pascoe

Inexperienced truckies trained in "grubby short courses" are being let loose on the road, putting lives at risk, according to truck drivers who are calling on the NSW transport department to raise teaching standards.

The peak body for driver trainers, the Australian Drivers Association, wrote to Roads and Maritime Services last month with a list of complaints about the driver training regime in NSW.

Last Sunday, a Fairfax-Media investigation revealed truck deaths have been increasing since 2013 – the year of the deadly Mona Vale tanker accident – while training schools were advertising one-day training courses for nine-tonne trucks.

RMS is now reviewing its heavy vehicle assessment scheme and is considering bringing in minimum training hours.

In its letter the drivers' association said it had received "a nearly uncountable" number of comments and concerns about the state of driver training in NSW, including "corruption still occurring ... shortcuts increasing, the gap between what we teach and the required skills widening, [and] substandard testing and licensing".

"If the RMS doesn't act swiftly, we will own the cause of the next M5 blockage or the next dog trailer rollover on the Cahill Expressway," the body said.

According to the letter, driving schools are offering training courses that last for just six hours, which, according to the guidelines, is supposed to be the minimum duration of a final assessment – not for the training course that precedes it.

"These assessors have built their businesses around delivery of these grubby short courses where the level of education and outcome are sub par," the letter said.

Fairfax Media understands RMS is also aware of a recent fatality in regional NSW involving a truck driver in his early 20s who, it is believed, had just six hours training weeks before the incident.

The association's general manager Mick Humphries said Australia's training regime was well behind other countries.

In the US, drivers have to undertake a three-week course that includes units on driving hours, log book, map reading, weights and compliance, plus they need 3000 kilometres of driving time, according to Mr Humphries.

In Australia, he said, there had been an an influx of trainers "with little or no actual on-road truck driving experience" handing out licences.

"Assessors – prior to 2013 – were required to do a two-week assessor training course in Sydney. Since 2013 there has been no consistent or thorough training program for new assessors," he said.

"This has been administered by individual registered training organisations and has been very patchy in terms of depth and consistency."

He said RMS have now acknowledged there are issues with "quality and consistency in the current scheme" and are working to see improvements.

Truck-driver trainer Steven Shiels, who has been training drivers for 25 years, said drivers no longer have to learn how to descend a hill using only their gears – a requirement on some steep slopes.

"The gear-changing competencies have been watered down that much that anyone can scrape through a test," he said.

He said schools are now training drivers to use a Roadranger gearbox – which has between nine and 18 speeds – in a day.

"In 25 years in this business I have had less than five drivers show us they can operate a Roadranger gearbox in a day, and they were very good," he said.

RMS uses in-cabin cameras to film driver assessments, but it's understood only 5 per cent of these are reviewed by the training organisation, and a fraction of those are reviewed by RMS.

According to Mr Shiels the abundance of cheap, quick courses puts pressure on quality driving schools to lower their standards.

He said RMS' audit regime has also been slackened, with an audit commencing only after a complaint.

"They are doing reactive audits not proactive ... last time I was audited was August 2012," he said.

An RMS spokeswoman said audits can be conducted due to customer complaints or analysis and were carried out "without notice".

She said RMS would not tolerate unsafe practices and that discussions with industry are taking place to ensure training and assessment "remains robust and of highest level".

RMS is due to renegotiate training standards with truck-driver trainers in December when their accreditation is up for renewal.

The authority is considering minimum hours for assessment and training.

"As part of the renewal process providers will be engaged to discuss any proposed changes to the scheme," the spokeswoman said.

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