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Testing times

15th July 1993, Page 30
15th July 1993
Page 30
Page 31
Page 30, 15th July 1993 — Testing times
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Arguments have raged for a long time as to whether truck driving tests should be conducted on laden vehicles and whether LGV driving schools should be regulated like car driving schools.

With the prospect of LGV driver licensing being extended to all vehicles over three tonnes gross there is likely to be a huge increase in demand for instruction and testing, so it's time to resolve these issues once and for all.

The Driving Standards Agency is about to publish a book which is designed to brief candidates and instructors on what will be required from LGV and PCV drivers in the increasingly demanding environment of the nineties (CM24-30 June) .

But what will it have to say about laden testing and regulation? The DSA argues that these matters are not as clear-cut as they seem. A number of attempts have been made to raise the questions with ministers, some as recently as last month, but road safety statistics do not indicate that there is a problem—or at least one that justifies legislation.

To get down to specifics, there is the question of what constitutes "laden": must the vehicle be loaded to its maximum gross weight? If so, who is going to provide the load? If the candidate was trained in-house, will the customers—or the insurance companies—be happy with a test being taken with a "live" load (rather than, say, concrete blocks which a driving school might be able to provide). And are there not enough problems with testing inexperienced drivers on unladen vehicles without having the risk of a runaway laden truck?

Then there are PCVs to consider. How do you recruit 70 people to sit in a doubledecker bus with an inexperienced and unqualified driver while he takes his test?

In any case, many training vehicles are taxed as PLG (private, light goods) and are banned from carrying any load—not even cones and canes for practising reversing and manoeuvring If they had to be presented for test in a laden condition they would need to be taxed at the full excise rate, and would need an 0-licence.

RTITB Senrices' Neville Clemence believes that in an ideal world training would be carried out on a mix of laden and unladen vehicles, which is often the case when training is conducted in-house.

Lane Group training manager Jo Abrahams supports the idea of instruction and testing on laden vehicles, while recognising the difficulties in taking a test while laden. In her view it is wrong to reject laden testing because of the risks involved with inexperienced drivers when they will be just as inexperienced with a load on after the test, despite having a certificate to show they're competent. Lane Group gets round this by carrying out its in-house training (for which it is RTITB approved) on 40ft curtain siders, both laden and unladen, rejecting the idea of training on flat beds because they no longer accurately represent the real world. The problem is, how can this be regulated to ensure consistent standards?

The question of registering or regulating LGV driving schools is fraught with difficulties. Current legislation requires the industry to regulate itself because the training is vocational, but the rules seem biased towards consumer-protection rather than quality regulation.

A wide range of standards can be found among trainers, whose only qualification need be an LGV pass certificate. Many oneman bands provide excellent training but, trainees will generally only gain experience in a single vehicle_ Not that the larger and longer-established outfits always provide the best tuition: one candidate was recently put up for his LGV 1 test after a single day's on road tuition and with no previous I-IGV experience.

Some LGV driving instructors are known to display the ADI badge which relates to cardriving tuition_ While this is not fraudulent, it does suggest a level of qualification which is absent.

The instructors concerned might say that they have satisfied the authorities of their qualifications as an instructor and as an LGV driver and the juxtaposition of the two is therefore justified.

The safest bet seems to be to check that the instructor is RTITB listed. This list was compiled when the RTITB was a statutory body and is still maintained and all RTITBlisted instructors are given an exhaustive three-day assessment every five years.

Possibly the only way to answer these questions is to get back to first principles. Why does the industry want tests conducted on laden vehicles? And why do we want to see driver training regulated? The answer is that there is a widespread desire to improve the industry's standards of professionalism. You can't work in the transport industry and be unaware of the anti-truck brigade's views, which seem to carry such weight with politicians and the public. Anything which improves our image by upgrading skills, courtesy and professionalism can only be a good thing.

Last year, nearly 51,000 WV tests and almost lawo PCV tests were conducted: the pass rate was 50% and 53% respectively. If improved training improved those pass rates by a half, the saving to industry would amount to the best part of a million pounds, so anything which aims to raise standards is worth going for, and this is what the DS/Vs book aims to do.

Its objects are:

OTo help drivers appreciate the amount of legislation which affects trucks and transport, and to make them aware of the need to keep up-to-date;

• To improve driver knowledge and point out improvements to vehicles and equipment, and to raise levels of awareness of ABS, traction control, gearboxes of various degrees of automation, load restraint, satellite tracking and other new technology; To improve driver attitudes towards their work, their vehicles and their customers, and to improve not only their professionalism but the public's perception of it by, for example, removing flags and dangling dollies from the cab and generally presenting a more businesslike image.

Quite apart from the general need for such a book (which is in the same series as Your Driving Test, Driving and The Driving Manual) there is the likelihood that a knowledge test will be introduced to the LGV and PCV tests to comply with EC regulations.

While there is already a brief knowledge test, all the answers can be found in the leaflet The Heavy Goods Vehicle Driving Test (DLG68) which is sent free to all candidates. This results in some "parrot-fashion" answers. Examination on a body of knowledge such as will be contained in the DSA's book is more likely to result in the sort of standards we are all looking for.

17 by Robert Coates

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