You’re Lucky You Don’t Want To Get Your Licence In The USA – Or Are You?

A little while ago Armstrongs met with one of the largest heavy vehicle training organisations in the US – if memory serves us correctly, give or take, they had about fifteen training locations scattered around the country and had about a four hundred’ish strong fleet of training vehicles.

Hand-shakes and “G’day mate” all round.  Round table talks were had, and war stories were told.  Our host were gracious and we got the grand tour.  Armstrongs – to say the least – was very impressed.  Out hosts – to say the least – were very unimpressed.  Shocked is maybe a better description… we’ll tell you more about that later.

Why are we bringing this up now?  Well, the US (with certain Canadian provinces not far behind) is about to implement by law minimum behind-the-wheel training times that, if introduced into the Victorian market place, would have just about every Victorian based heavy vehicle licence training provider lined up outside VicRoads first thing in the morning waiting to give them a serve for ruining their businesses – or more specifically – their business model of ‘churn & burn’ and demanding that VicRoads right this horrible wrong and allow them to go back to teaching their clients absolutely NOTHING about driving a heavy vehicle during the 3-4 hours of behind-the-wheel training that has become the norm in Victoria.


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This presents us with a nice segue (or ‘segway’ depending on which side of the tracks you come from!).

When people talk about getting their heavy vehicle licence in Victoria they talk in hours – 3 to 4 mostly (not at Armstrongs of course!)

In the US, when people talk about getting their CDL (Commercial Drivers Licence to you and me) they talk in weeks – 3 to 4!

So going back a bit, you can now understand how our American hosts came to be so shocked.  After they had finished telling us all about the licensing requirements in the ‘States, Armstrongs chirps up with “…Well in Victoria you can get your equivalent CDL with about 3 to 4 hours of behind the wheel training time…”

Initially, they thought they had simply misunderstood us, given we speak a different language from them and all.  But once we assured them that we both spoke the same mother tongue and that they had actually heard us correctly the first time, the shock well and truly set in.

It makes us laugh-cry-laugh when we read how the subject of getting a CDL is framed in the States.  For example, on our host’s website the following questions were posed:

  1. “Is 3 or 4 weeks of truck driver training enough?”
  2. “What if I get through the training but still don’t feel ready?”
  3. “What if I still need to work on certain skills”

We’re just crying at this stage.  Literally, just crying.

Contrast that with how getting your heavy vehicle licence is framed in the Victorian market place.  I can hear our competitors now:

  1. “Don’t worry mate, 3 or 4 hours will be plenty”
  2. “Oh, you’ll get through the training alright whether you’re ready or not, we have methods to make sure of it“
  3. “Let’s get one thing straight, the only skill you need to work on is memorising the test route.”


Let’s get to real point of US v Vic truck training.

In the US, most CDL applicants (from the bigger training organisations like our host) are ‘pre-hired’ before they even complete their training and obtain their CDL.  Sure, it’s a much, much bigger industry and much bigger economy, but fundamentally transport companies are happy to hire newly licenced guys straight after training because they know what each of those applicants has gone through – and they trust the training organisations to deliver quality training.

On that premise alone, what transport company in Australia would risk hiring someone who had just completed 3 to 4 hours of behind the wheel training just going around a test route?  A stupid one.

So when we break it down, applicants from large CDL training organisations in the US are simply more attractive because they have spent at least one week studying for the CDL learners permit (which is somewhere in the vicinity of 125 to 150 questions long) and they have obtained at least 3 weeks of behind-the-wheel training.  Transport companies are lined up at the door of training schools to pre-hire those currently undergoing their training, and most of the applicants have certainty that there is a job waiting for them upon them successful obtaining their CDL.  Win-Win.

Conversely, applicants in Victoria are not attractive at all because they have spent probably 1 hour studying for the theory test (which is only 32 questions long at the HR level and and additional 20 at the HC level) and then spend around the 3 to 4 hour mark learning to pass the driving assessment.  Most newly licenced heavy vehicle drivers then struggle to find work because every employer wants someone ‘with at least 2 years driving experience’ and then transport companies have to put up with incredibly high incident and accident rates because their new drivers have no basic foundational skills.  Lose-Lose.

Why is it that the US got it so right and Victoria has got it so wrong?

Well, for one, when commercial interests and road safety come together there is only going to be one winner.  And that’s not road safety to make it clear.

Obviously no one feels as aggrieved enough (cheated?) – other than Armstrongs – regarding the state of heavy vehicle license training in this state to actually complain to VicRoads.  We know our competitors will resist change to the death for fear of upsetting their clients and losing business.

Open note to our competitors – Remember, the market place will always do only what it has to do to get a licence.  At the moment it is ‘allowed’ to do very little and under the current licensing regime heavy vehicle training providers are also ‘allowed’ to do very little to facilitate this. But don’t worry.  When change comes – and it will – the market place will continue to do only what it has to – except what it will have to do in the future will be much more.  Last time we looked; more clients doing less training hours = less clients doing more quality training hours.  Unless of course, you don’t care about quality training outcomes.  In that case, when change comes, your trainers and your clients are going to be bored out of their brains driving around the same test route for days on end.  Don’t agree?  Happy to discuss it with you.  Give us a call.

If this has got you thinking about how you can better position yourself to get that driving role (and give yourself a chance at getting around the ‘2 year rule’) then you need to get as much behind-the-wheel training as possible.  And by that, we don’t simply mean spending more hours going around the same test route, we mean getting ‘out there’ and experiencing more driving environments that you are going to come up against on a daily basis.

Why?  Because the boss is going to call your bluff, walk you out to the yard and get you to take him for a drive.  If you want to beat that 2 year rule then you gotta’ show him you can get passed the front gate without destroying his gearbox, side-swiping every pole and tree as you go around corners, and can get his customers freight to them without shaking it all about.

If you’re up for it, and not many are, then you should check out Armstrongs HR Synchro, HR Non-Synchro, and HC “Plus” courses or give the team a call to discuss getting more time behind-the-wheel.