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23rd October 1970
Page 52
Page 53
Page 52, 23rd October 1970 — FROM CAR TO CLASS I
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

TO JUDGE from the number of letters we receive on the subject, many drivers who, for one reason or another, do not qualify for a heavy goods vehicle driver's licence on the score of experience are very apprehensive about their chances of passing the test without first getting some professional instruction. There are also many who, like myself and other members of CM staff. occasionally need to drive commercial vehicles on the road—fitters, testers, salesmen, engineers—but cannot claim a licence on the basis of experience. They, too, write to ask whether professional instruction is advisable and, if so, how little is necessary in order to reach test standard.

From my own experience this year, and from talking to others in a similar situation, I have no doubt that a period of expert instruction is virtually essential if one is to be reasonably certain of a pass. Circumstances naturally affect the answer when it comes to advising an individual on how little instruction may be the necessary minimum. An experienced driver who is rusty on the refinements of road procedure, or who fears he may have imperceptibly adopted bad driving habits, could perhaps be brought to test standard in a couple of days—though I think most training officers would be unhappy at such a short period of tuition. A man accustomed to small rigid vehicles would normally expect, say, five days' instruction to convert to class 1 artics. And, much to my astonishment, I found that five days was sufficient for me to achieve a class 1 hgv pass, despite previously having handled goods vehicles on only very few occasions—unlike our road test staff, for example, who are often at the wheel of heavies. On any fair assessment. I would have rated only as a car driver.

Experience needed

Although passing the test entitles one to drive the biggest and most difficult goods vehicle combinations, it does not turn one into a lorry driver or anything like it. Even to handle a big artic confidently, quite apart from all the other aspects of the job, one would need to build up a great deal more experience.

But if passing the test is what we are talking about, then I would say that five days is a reasonable possibility for anyone with average driving skill and experience; on the course which I took, there were four of us with very diverse driving histories and we all passed the test first time. Without preparation for the test, I think that even the widely experienced driver might fail simply because he did not know the "approved" methods of tackling particular hazards, or the acceptable answers to the questions in the oral section which follows the physical driving test.

The five-day course I attended was the regular one run by Blox Services Ltd of Fountain Road, London SW17, which cost 48 guineas (but is now f70). The chief instructor is Mr Max Newman, until recently chief instructor. at the Metropolitan Police Driver Training School at Hendon. He made it very clear from the start that he did not approve of teaching people just to

pass a test: if I attended it would be for the full normal course. I agreed with him—while hoping that "the full normal course" would nevertheless be adequate for passing the test. I need not have worried.

At that time Blox was taking four drivers a week, two on a class I Bedford TK /York artic and two on a Bedford 3-ton rigid, but there is now a further artic.

Theory first

The first day is all classroom work and, following a searching eyesight test on a Keystone tester, is devoted to a thorough study of the Highway Code and the police training manual Roadcrafi, which is Max's bible. The object here is to inculcate the system of driving, and particularly the approach to hazards, which is now accepted by most advanced driving instructors and which is very closely followed in all Ministry of Transport approaches to professional driving. Perhaps it sounds hackneyed—and very simple—to be "in the correct position on the road, travelling at the correct speed with the correct gear engaged" (and that is really what it is all about) but in fact to maintain that standard unerringly day in, year out is something that most of us mere mortals can only strive in our inadequate way to achieve.

The morning of the second day is also classroom time, part of it devoted to films of skid control and the Metropolitan Police system of car control. The afternoon sees one on the road--but in a car driven by Max, who gives a commentary drive and points out the good and bad in technique. This second day ends with a period of familiarization with the test vehicle, a 40ft artic in our case, but only stationary in the yard.

In the thick of it Impatience to get at the wheel and have a real go was rewarded on the third day—but in a manner which calls one's bluff. After taking turns with the other artic pupil and the instructor, Bert de Liege, in driving the vehicle fairly gingerly on main and country roads during the morning, in the afternoon we were plunged into the thick of central London traffic.

Mid-afternoon in crowded Oxford Sreet, with both lanes full and only inches between vehicles, soon sharpens up one's judgment, and the situation does not provide a 40ft attic much cut-in room on corners. But the experience, coming on top of the very thorough teaching of the Roadercei drill, is an excellent way of making the pupil concentrate on the important matters of road positioning and hazard appreciation.

After Oxford Street, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner, I thought anything would be easy. I was wrong. After a lif-hour written examination on the fourth morning, we began reversing and manoeuvring practice using a yard laid out with markers to simulate the hgv test. For a newcomer, reversing an artic is an education in any case, but when one has a single-axle trailer with the axle set right at the rear, the whole business seems impossible. Without constant correction, the trailer shoots smartly off into the rough.

After my fellow pupil, who was converting from rigid to artic, had fairly quickly mastered the art, Bert de Liege gave me an extra hour at the reversing game. and then obviously regarded me as a pretty hopeless proposition. We finished the day with some more open-road driving, which seemed simple by comparison.

Friday morning was devoted to a dummy run on the school's own version of the hgv road section, taken with our driving instructor. Hanging on the clutch, entering roundabouts too fast in the wrong gear, touching the , occasional kerb on tight corners and failing to use the proper sequence for applying the handbrake when coming to rest were things for which I was still being corrected by the instructor. But otherwise it all seemed to be going quite well.

This confidence quickly evaporated in the afternoon when Max Newman took each student in turn on a complete dummy hgv test drive, which included a series of fiendish hills, steep turns and snaking narrow urbar roads—far worse than anything encountered on the real test. However, it was noi these later trials which caught me out bui the first major hazard, a large roundabout where my use of the artic's bulk in order tc secure a passage was, he thought, toc aggressive and would almost certainly hay( caused me to fail a genuine hgv test. Oddl3 enough, this incident relieved the tension o the examination situation and I felt mud more at ease for the rest of the run. Perhap: that is why, assessing the whole week': performance, Mr Newman passed me ou with a course certificate. (Though in his verbal course assessment on the final afternoon he left no doubt about my shortcomings.) The real thing Facing the prospects of the actual test which was booked for early the following Monday morning, it seemed probable that the reversing manoeuvre would beat me. Part of the trouble was sheer unfamiliarity in judging the response to steering when reversing a large vehicle, and I had also found it difficult to reverse by looking back out of the driving window and then return my attention to the mirrors. I decided to stick to the mirrors and reverse on them—which I did for the actual test, except for the last few yards when it was essential to swing the driving door open and lean right down to look below the side of the trailer to make sure that that distant rear axle was not running beyond the yellow-painted box in the reversing bay. It worked, and the relief at having got the reversing over made the jest of the 1+-hour test seem very straightforward.

Anyone familiar with artics probably reverses them as instinctively as I normally reverse my car. But for the novice I think the key is to decide on the way in which the reversing will be tackled, and then stick to a rigid system.

Pulling forward to prepare for the reversing test, one keeps as far over to the nearside (left-hand) marker post as possible, so that when one starts the reverse, and rapidly puts on full right lock, there is enough room between the unit and the "kerb" on the right. Having got the front of the trailer moving sharply to the right, one swings rapidly back on to left lock, to bring the offside front wheel of the tractor swinging round to the right, but without crossing the kerb line. With luck and judgment one then soon sees the centre marker (which has to be passed with the vehicle on the left) coming up in the offside mirror. It is then a matter of gently reversing across the centre of the test area without touching the marker, with the tail of the trailer aimed for the reversing bay.

It was here that Bert de Liege's expert advice paid off in my case. He teaches his pupils how to swing the tractor gently from lock to lock; while making very little rearward progress, .so that one gets a good look in each exterior mirror in turn. This forestalls the possibility of the trailer getting far out of line without being noticed, it provides excellent means of lining up on the points for which one is aiming and is also a safety measure when reversing in close quarters.

My fellow student on the attic, Bob Cooper, a civilian driver with the Metropolitan police who was converting from rigid to artic, passed the test at a different centre. At the Croydon centre where I took the test, Ashley Watson, a Gas Board technician, passed with flying colours on the 3-ton rigid and so, later, did his fellow pupil, Bill Harrild, a Gas Board driver. This says something for the standard and consistency of the Blox method of instruction.

Human problems Quite apart from attending for instruction, I was interested in Max Newman's views on some of the human problems which the latest Acts are bringing.

He sees the current legislation as the first rung of a ladder which over the next 20 years will carry the "labourer with a licence" of today to the peak of a professional craft.

Says Mr Newman: "Old ideas die hard and none more so than that the life of the heavy lorry driver is one which attracts only the more itinerant fellow . the one who is attracted by the open road, the everchanging journey route, the sense of freedom from the more routine existence of the average industrial worker. What is not remembered enough is that an itinerant job can attract people who are not prepared to accept responsibility—and that can, and has, made it bad both for fleet operators and the drivers themselves."

He believes a fair proportion of drivers will fail their medical examinations as the new regulations begin to "bite" and that others, even with long experience, who for one reason or another cannot claim exemption from the test, will most probably fail the hgv test. In a wider sense, he thinks that if the Ministry introduced spot tests for heavy goods vehicle drivers, on the lines of spot vehicle checks, up to 80 per cent would fail.

The five-day course he accepts as perhaps a necessary limit, because of the deterrent effect of cost, but he wishes it were twice as long and believes sincerely that a more extensive course would for most employers be an investment that would pay rich dividends in terms of driver standards.

He is emphatic that it is not only good driving which counts, but a sense of involvement with the vehicle which, for instance, warns the truly professional man that a fault is developing and prompts him to report it before expensive damage is done. In the present course he devotes a period to vehicle sympathy, and has a chamber of horrors to show the mechanical results of clumsy driving and ignorance of the early signs of failure.

Everybody in the haulage industry, maintains Max, is bound soon to lose the hire and fire mentality. A more thorough investigation by employers about the skill of intending drivers is bound to come; "some employers at the moment don't even give the man a test, then moan at a later stage when the chap brings home a ravaged vehicle. The driver is ready for the sack—and the boss is ready to give it". Those attitudes, he thinks, must be changed. for the better—and soon.

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