Since 2015, the Livestock and Bulk Rural Carriers Association (LBRCA) in NSW has been recognising young professional drivers through its Young Driver of the Year award. As an organisation committed to addressing the shortage of commercial heavy vehicle drivers, a significant challenge for the road freight industry nationally, the LBRCA has developed a proposal for a driver cadetship which aims to attract and retain young people in the heavy vehicle industry. LBRCA President Paul Pulver is the driver behind this LBRCA initiative. Paul has almost 50 years of experience in the road transport industry from driving livestock vehicles to being an acknowledged authority in the area of compliance.
Prime Mover: How has the pathway to becoming a truck driver changed?
Paul Pulver: In rural areas there would always be a tray body truck that kids learned to drive in. Then they had all of the stepping stones to go on to their semi licence. A lot of them also went on and did their apprenticeships as mechanics and things like that. Over the last 25 years too many kids are leaving their rural homes and going to Sydney or Newcastle or Port Kembla so we’ve lost them and they never come back. There’s no one staying on the farms anymore and we haven’t got the growth of the young people coming through. Because of the shortage of young people the country towns have got a problem because they don’t get their football sides or their netball teams and the whole community starts to break down.
PM: So how do you keep them in rural regions as truck drivers?
PP: The real issue, we’ve had all the way through, is the kids who are available don’t really want to stay, they just want to go to the cities and drive a big truck, which currently they can’t do until they are 21. It’s been suggested they go to TAFE for a while. Well, TAFE is not going to teach them what they need to know, much the same as university doesn’t necessarily turn out people job-ready. We need to have people who are job- ready and the only way we can do that is to lower the age to 18 to have a B-double licence. That doesn’t mean all of them will be in that position, but some will.
PM: Wouldn’t a HC semi-trailer licence suffice?
PP: There are a lot of companies out there that only have B-doubles and don’t have anything else. One of the main changes that I’m putting forward is we’ve always given the new young kid the old truck from down the back yard, because it’s paid for itself. My point is we don’t give them old technology trucks even if they are well maintained and roadworthy. These kids have got to get into a truck that has the latest technology like roll stability, electronic braking, lane departure, adaptive cruise control and driver monitoring such as Seeing Machines.
PM: Is technology part of the answer?
PP: I can go through the list and tick off all the issues anyone may have in relation to a young driver. What if he goes to sleep? Seeing Machine. What if he doesn’t concentrate? Seeing Machine. What if he goes into a corner too fast? EBS and roll stability.
PM: After the truck is decided, what next?
PP: The next thing after you’ve given them a good truck, you’ve got to pick the right person. They have got to have finished their red ‘P’ probationary licence period with a clean record with no major offences such as negligent driving or DUI. They will then be put through a comprehensive induction period with the employing company and after that they are fully supervised by an experienced driver for 200 hours driving two-up at the wheel of a modern truck. Only then would they have the ability to get a Heavy Combination licence although through the process of an independent assessment, not by an employee of the company. Once that licence is granted that licence belongs to both the company and the driver. It does not solely belong to the driver and the licence has to be locked into that company.
PM: How does this resolve the shortage of good B-double drivers?
PP: So we’ve got a safe truck, the driver has gone through a proper induction, we’ve got the right kid that’s willing to have a go, we’ve got a company that supports them and we’ve got all the bells and whistles such as GPS tracking. After another 100 hours of two-up supervision in a B-double and they can apply for their MC B-double licence.
PM: What about insurance?
PP: NTI have written a letter to say they are in support. NTI are already insuring 19 year olds driving triples in the Northern Territory. The transport company involved is not going to risk their insurance if they don’t think it’s going to work. Any decision to what the cadet driver is doing has to come from a level above the operations manager so they are not thrown into any situations they are not ready for. This doesn’t have to be done every day, just the first time a particular task is allocated to them. The company also has to be a rural carrier who pick up or unload at rural destinations. We don’t want people running Sydney-Melbourne to get involved in this.
PM: So where do you go from here?
PP: For a start all I want is a sign-off on an exemption for six drivers for a trial. I’ve met with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole and I told the Minister I believe I can put an 18 year old on the road who could be safer than a 50 year old because of their attitude and acceptance of the technology. Basically it’s a safe driver in a safe truck with a responsible company and I believe we can make it work.