A licence to drive

Don’t employ a new truck or bus driver until you have tested his ability to safely and skillfully handle your vehicle.

I was shocked recently to discover how many truck and bus drivers, with what appears to be a valid driving licence and a professional driving permit, cannot safely and skillfully handle a vehicle. A company wanting to replace one of their senior drivers when he retired at the end of 2009 had approached me to help with the selection process. Each of the eight drivers applying for the position had submitted a CV, and on paper they all appeared to be well-qualified for the job.

When we got them together I proceeded to road-test each driver, starting the process by asking them to conduct a walk-around pre-trip vehicle inspection. The idea was that each driver would explain how to ensure that the vehicle was roadworthy and safe for the journey ahead.

This part of the test was a real eye-opener: not one of the eight drivers had been taught how to conduct a pre-trip vehicle inspection. When one of them told me he would need to check his dashboard gauges and I asked about the purpose of the rev counter, he told me that when the gauge needle points at the red section the engine is getting hot!

The next test step was to examine each driver’s licence and professional driving permit (PrDP.) Out of the eight drivers I interviewed three had no PrDP, although they were quick to tell me that this was not a problem as they could get a temporary one from the local licensing department within 24 hours. Since a temporary permit is only issued to drivers who already have a PrDP that has either expired or is about to expire, I can’t help but wonder how many truck and bus drivers there are on our roads without PrDPs and even how many may be driving with false licences.

Remember that, according to law, as the vehicle owner you are responsible for ensuring that the driver of your vehicle has a valid and legal driving licence and PrDP.

But the scariest part of the process was taking each driver on a road test. To thoroughly evaluate driving skills and abilities and to give all the job applicants a fair chance, I spent about 30 minutes on the road with each driver in a variety of road and driving conditions.

Out of the eight drivers tested, only one was a competent driver who handled the vehicle well and committed no traffic violations. Three were virtually unable to drive. Although  they could get the vehicle going, they had no idea how to drive safely without damaging it. One driver had such poor width-and-depth adjustment and perception that we had some uncomfortably close shaves during his thirty-minute test drive. Another over-revved the engine and only changed gear when the engine protection device stopped it from revving any higher.

Among the many other common faults, the most serious was free-wheeling towards a stop street and then harshly applying the brakes at the very last minute. Only one driver applied advanced driving techniques, like scanning the road ahead for potential hazards and predicting how best to respond by proactively considering what action to take in order to avoid a collision.

Other road transport operators who road-test truck and bus drivers before employing them have told me of similar experiences. That’s why a thorough road test is such a vitally important part of the process of determining which drivers to put behind the wheels of your commercial vehicles. 

 


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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