Many more people now see the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) system, with its modest driver training requirements, as more of an opportunity than a threat. This was not always so, explains Robin Dickeson.

Whether you see the Driver CPC as a threat or an opportunity depends upon your point of view.

In April 2001, the UK Driver Standards Agency consulted on the European Commission’s plans, published in a draft directive, to introduce compulsory training for truck and bus drivers. The aim was, and remains, to improve road safety by improving truck and bus driver standards. The EU has a roughly 34 million-strong truck and bus fleet and its trucks deliver some 75% of our goods and services. It is clearly desirable to have consistently high professional standards among the drivers of those vehicles.

Initial reactions to suggestions for Europe-wide driver training standards varied widely. Road transport is an inherently conservative industry and generally cautious about change, particularly when it is linked to spending cash. However, as the details emerged and crystallised into EU Directive 2003/59, many of the early concerns were allayed.

That directive demands that a driver has 35 hours of driver training in each 5-year period. All EU Member States have implemented the directive, although with differences from one State to another, particularly in implementation timetables.

The overall effect is a clear move toward a consistent approach to driver training and road safety.

In the UK, we can expect to see the practice settle toward one seven-hour day training session a year. This can give transport operators and drivers much more flexibility in terms of choosing the days on which to do their training, in many instances using “down” days as the training is entirely classroom-based. The nation’s bus drivers jumped through the hoop first, a year ahead of truck drivers, and emerged largely unscathed.

95% success rate

The law now demands that a new truck or bus driver gets a Driver CPC initial qualification and a driver qualification card. The UK Driver and Vehicle Services Agency (DVSA) issues these when drivers have completed either their initial qualification or, if they have a GB photocard licence, when they have completed their 35 hours of periodic training. Drivers risk a £50 fixed penalty for driving without this card.

Until recently few HGV drivers had done their 35 hours of training: we saw something of a scramble in the last few months before the deadline on 10 September 2014. Then the DVSA proudly announced that 664,000 drivers out of an estimated 675,000 had beaten the deadline. That near 95% success rate suggests that the message got through.

As one training manager observed, “People realised that the Driver CPC wasn’t going to go away and that they needed to do something about it, having put it on the back burner for too long.” The next deadline is 2019. “Hopefully many more people will be better organised and we’ll not see a repeat of the same scramble.”

An opportunity to invest in drivers

Increasingly, larger professional haulage and freight transport operators and some of the better-organised driver agencies see the Driver CPC as an opportunity. They will use this as a vehicle to invest in their drivers’ training, as part of continuing professional development programmes.

Unions also broadly welcome the opportunities that the scheme brings, although worry that it further raises the cost of entry to the profession. As one union man said: “The cost of entry is already between £3000 and £4000: a lot of money to find to get into a job that may not suit once you’re behind the wheel.”

While union members welcome anything that improves the standing and professionalism of truck and bus drivers, there is a general feeling that the present Driver CPC arrangements should be a starting point. “The Driver CPC needs to develop into more than just a ‘box ticking’ exercise to comply with EU regulations, where drivers are able to repeat the same courses in order to reach their 35 hours’ periodic training,” says James Bower, communications manager of the United Road Transport Union.

Adrian Jones, road transport man at Unite, says: “Unite broadly welcomes the Driver CPC, as it is an attempt at professionalising the industry, but we continue to have serious concerns about the quality of the training. Drivers are only required to turn up, without undertaking any testing on understanding or competence. Unite wants to see some form of accredited testing developed, as the way forward to ensuring the highest possible levels of professionalism and conduct across the industry.”

Stephen Small at the DVSA confirms: “The European Commission has conducted a review of Driver CPC and is assessing what next steps ought to be taken.” At this stage, it seems likely that those “next steps” may be some years away, despite union enthusiasm for more change.

By contrast to the unions, James Firth, head of road freight and enforcement policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), says the FTA is “absolutely against the pass or fail tests. These would exacerbate the driver shortage”. Firth also worries that such tests would patronise professional drivers. “We need the entire industry, operators and drivers alike, to change their attitudes to training and professional development. Individuals need to take responsibility for their own development and learning.”

Telematics to build on Driver CPC?

Most drivers who have completed their CPC training say they found it interesting and useful, although speaking with people in the industry, there has been a variety of views. These range from the clearly enthusiastic to the old dogs’ suspicion of new tricks.

Much depends upon the skill of the trainers and their ability to inspire their students. The fact that too many UK truck drivers are worryingly older than typical industry profiles may make trainers’ jobs harder.

This was a lesson most truck makers learned the hard way when they started to offer driver training to their customers’ drivers (ie training to help drivers convert from driving one truck to another). In many instances, they repackaged training programmes as “driver development”; older and experienced drivers resisted the idea of training for a job they felt they could already do very well.

Teaching old dogs new tricks in new trucks was never easy in spite of the fact that most driver development programmes could deliver 10, 15 or even 20% fuel savings from modifying driver behaviour. Those driver behaviour programmes have been revolutionised by telematics that can give a wealth of real-time information from a satellite-monitored truck. Several truck makers also offer CPC training in one form or another: MAN, Mercedes, Renault, Scania and Volvo between than have run thousands of courses.

For many, telematics seem to offer the best way to build on the foundations laid by CPC training; ironically, it may prove unpopular in some union circles.

Telematics and remote real-time driver and vehicle performance monitoring give “spy in the cab” powers that were almost undreamed of in the mid-1980s, when tachographs were first mandatory. That prospect of a driver effectively taking his boss with him when he drives out of the yard can be challenging.

Overall, the impressive success of the campaign to get drivers qualified before the deadline and the opportunities that the Driver CPC offers as a starting point for investment in driver skills make the scheme look like a valuable opportunity. But like any tool, its value depends upon the way people use it — and sell it to drivers.

Last reviewed 12 November 2014