Taking the h.g.v. driving test
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
by J. P. B. Sherriff, MITA
JUDGING by the number of queries about the heavy goods vehicle driving test that CM receives each week, there is a genuine desire for knowledge on this subject. I suspect at times that these inquiries are meant to provide the questioner with information on how to obtain a licence without taking the test, while in other cases I sense that a desire to take the test is accompanied by a fear of the outcome. This fear of the unknown is perhaps natural but having now witnessed a simulated test from start to finish I consider it is without foundation —for those who genuinely desire to become proficient h.g.v. drivers.
First of all, then, how can a driver obtain a licence without passing a test? The law provides that those who have been in the habit of driving a heavy goods vehicle for six months in aggregate during the year prior to the scheme coming into operation will not require to be tested. Normally a satisfactory certificate from the applicant's employer will suffice to satisfy the Licensing Authority that the applicant has been "in the habit of driving goods vehicles". This means that the livelihood of those already driving heavy goods vehicles will not be in jeopardy. It also means that there can be abuse of the scheme initially if employers are indiscriminate in issuing certificates. An officer at the Ministry of Transport pointed out to me recently that such employers could well become the victims of their own actions by one day engaging men who had obtained a licence on the strength of a certificate which was not justified by the driver's experience.
The re-introduction of the h.g.v. test will, I feel sure, eventually mean a return to the days when h.g.v. men enjoyed a status above that of other drivers. This, however, was not the intention of the Ministry of Transport in re-introducing the test: improved road safety standards were the main consideration. It is all too easy to step into a vehicle weighing 32 tons gross and move it. A person over 21 years of age who passes an ordinary Ltest today is licensed to drive all groups of vehicles but this does not mean he has any degree of skill in handling the largest vehicles. This privelege is happily to be short-lived, since the heavy goods vehicle driving test will begin later this year or early in 1969.
What must a driver do to obtain a test. what is the test like, how difficult will it be? These questions are undoubtedly reasons for the fear I spoke of earlier.
To find the answer to these and other questions I arranged for the 1967 Lorry Driver of the Year, Mr. Reg Tooze of Regent Oil Co. Ltd. to take the test. The Ministry of Transport co-operated as willingly as Mr. Tooze and his employers had done, and made specialarrangements for a test at its Bristol h.g.v. driving test centre. The procedure adopted was exactly that which will apply when the scheme is fully operative_ The documentation was a mock-up of what will be used but the rest—
including the result was the real thing.
Mr. Tooze made application for the test. giving very much the same detail as he would for an ordinary driving test. In addition he had to state his present licence number and date of expiry, and the class of vehicle he wished to be tested on. There are eight different classes of h.g.v. driving licences. listed in the accompanying table. The appointment was made and the applicant received a booklet, describing the test, which he was advised to read carefully. He was instructed to report to the test centre with a vehicle suitable for the test, that is of the type which agreed with that on his application, and in a fitcondition. The applicant provides the vehicle—not the Ministry of Transport.
On the day of the test Reg Tooze reported to the receptionist at the test centre a few minutes before the appointed time of 10.00 hours and shortly afterwards he was joined by his examiner Mr. H. G. Dowell, who is h.g.v. senior driving examiner.
The examiner asked Mr. Tooze to sign his journal, which was done to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he was the candidate, and immediately asked him to accompany him to the special area on which the manoeuvring exercises were to be carried out. These take less than five minutes: delay is considered bad for nerves. To ensure that the candidate had come properly prepared Mr. Dowell compared the vehicle with that detailed on the application form. In this case it was a class 1 vehicle; this is the highest class, The first part of the test when using an articulated vehicle is to uncouple and recouple the unit and trailer and it has been proposed that the driver must be capable of doing this without assistance. In this case he could not. This vehicle was fitted with a trailer accessory, which had to be disconnected and it required two men to recouple it. On this occasion he was allowed assistance but normally he would not be. The Ministry is looking into this. Having successfully separated and re-joined the unit and trailer Mr. Tooze then moved his vehicle into the manoeuvring area.
There are two parts to this section of the test. For the first the vehicle has to be reversed round a pylon at an acute angle and into a loading bay which is one and a half times the width of the vehicle. This manoeuvre should be completed without crossing kerbs or striking pylons, although this will not necessarily fail a candidate. The second part requires the vehicle to be driven around pylons Which are placed in line ahead and separated at distances one and a half times the length of the vehicle: he then drives round a pylon again at an acute angle and into a bay using the same dimensions as in the first part, Mr. Tooze completed the first sections without any difficulty and moved on to the braking test. There he had to brake with safety from 20 mph inside 20 ft and again he did not experience any problem. The trailer aid may have assisted him here; he pulled up square with the front wheels of the unit on the stop line. (I should point out here that loaded vehicles will not be accepted for the test.)
The next part of the test, and certainly the most nerve-wracking, was a 25-mile road route in and around Bristol accompanied by the examiner. The route is designed to take in all types of road hazards and traffic conditions. There are sections of dual carriageway, places where one emerges into major roads, acceleration and decelaration lanes. roundabouts, traffic lights, roads with unilateral parking and unrestricted parking. This part of the driving test is continuous and takes 1.1 hours but in addition to normal hazards the driver demonstrates his skill On hill starts, both ascending and descending. Running back on a hill start is considered a serious fault.
There were occasions during the road section when the experience of our candidate was obvious, and awkward—if not dangerous —situations were avoided. The road test completed, we returned to the centre for the final section, which was oral and designed to ascertain the candidate's knowledge of the Highway Code, traffic signs and mechanical knowledge in relation to safety. It should be stressed that the purpose of the whole test is to produce safe drivers, and to qualify for a licence a candidate roust show that he has sufficient mechanical knowledge to know when, from the driver's point of view, it is dangerous to drive a vehicle, as well as the ability to drive. This does not mean that he must be able to repair vehicles.
Two examples of the type of question asked will illustrate the point: Q Why is it dangerous to coast downhill with a vehicle fitted with air-brakes?
Acceptable answer: Because when coasting you are not building up air pressure.
Q What safety factors are involved in stowage or loading the vehicle?
Acceptable answer: To prevent the load or any part of it endangering other road users; to ensure maximum stability and roadholding when cornering and braking: and to prevent any sudden movement of the load when sudden braking or turning is necessary_ With the test completed the examiner and candidate met Mr. W. Walker, and Mr. J. A, Fazakerley of the Ministry of Transport to discuss the test.
Mr. Tooze opened the discussion on the attack, stating that since it was not a feature of tank operation in petroleum companies there was no point in including unit separation as part of the test. Mr_ Fazakerley pointed out that the test was for a h.g.v. driving licence and not necessarily for a particular type of operation. The licence would entitle the holder to drive any type of vehicle in the appropriate class. It was apparent that the trouble with the trailer aid was annoying Mr. Tooze. Here Mr. Walker stepped in to state that the test regulations which made it clear that it was proposed that throughout the test the driver must be unaided had been circulated to the industry in draft form and no one had raised the question of any difficulty likely to be presented by trailer accessories of the kind with which Mr. Tooze's vehicle was fitted. He agreed that in the light of that day's experience the need to amend the regulations was something which must now be considered.
Did Mr. Tooze consider the test difficult? (At this point he did not know the result nor did he know what mistakes, if any, he had made.) It was his opinion that the manoeuvring tests were easy, the road test relatively easy and the safety questions difficult. This was probably only because he was looking beyond the obvious answers in the oral section.
Mr. Fazakerley pointed out that what was wanted in this section was an indication that the candidate knew what to do in potentially dangerous circumstances, As an example he posed the question: "What would you do if you detected a leaking brake line?" The most acceptable answer would be "park the vehicle and get it repaired".
Mr. Tooze may have found the road route relatively easy but he did agree that it was so designed that in the 25 miles of the test route he had encountered all that he would expect to encounter in a week of normal operation. His score sheet showed only nine faults and some of these were elementary. For instance you are still expected to look over your right shoulder when drawing away from the kerb, even in a heavy goods vehicle! Nevertheless he passed with flying colours.
The "mistakeswere mainly the product of experience—Mr. Tooze knew his own capabilities and those of his vehicle and consequently he neglected to observe the niceties in some cases. At no time did he drive without due care and attention and on more than one occasion his experience and skill prevented a dangerous incident.
How would the novice have fared? Mr. Dowell, the examiner, believed that in that day's traffic and weather conditions, a pass would have been doubtful. Mr. Tooze took the view that with one day of intensive instruction a light vehicle driver could be converted to the lightest grade of heavy goods vehicle, but not up to test standard. He believed that it would take all of six weeks to prepare a man for the test by allowing him to use a vehicle after tuition to gain experience.
In the past I have criticized the manoeuvring tests—as did Mr. Tooze—but they are only a small part of the whole. The test is designed overall to improve h.g.v. driving standards and it was the opinion of the candidate that in time this would be achieved.
His advice to other candidates is: get tuition, get experience, know your vehicle, and understand the job.