HGV Driving: Getting Started


picture of lorries parked at a service station overlaid with the Backline logo with the L in the design of a learner driver plate

Guest written by Sam Hay, Training & Marketing Manager

 

Recently, I was fortunate enough for Backline to put me through my HGV Class 2 licence. Having been with the company since 2011, I’ve picked up plenty of industry knowledge in that time – but nothing quite compares to getting the first-hand experience of actually going through the process yourself.

 

For me, it wasn’t a particularly long process (I started in mid November and passed Module 4 Driver CPC on 17th Jan) but there were things I learned along the way that could have made it smoother (and quicker).

 

The Medical

This was a somewhat surreal experience. There I was expecting to have my blood pressure taken and be asked a load of questions about mine and my family’s health history. This was partially accurate, but no-one had told me that I’d also be asked to close my eyes and try to stay balanced as the doctor pushed me (gently) from side to side!

 

This all went without a hitch, anyway, and within about a week my licence had been updated with my provisional entitlement, having sent off the D2 & D4 forms.

 

Useful to know: you can print off your own copy of the D4 medical form but the D2 (application for a provisional licence) form has to be ordered from the DVLA thanks to some special “security features”. It’s free (order it here) and you can order a D4 form at the same time to save your paper/ink.

 

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The Theory

The theory is made up of three parts:

 

  • Module 1A. Multiple Choice (100 questions)
  • Module 1B. Hazard Perception (19 clips)
  • Module 2. Case Studies (Driver CPC)

 

Booking this was fairly straightforward. What I didn’t realise was that I could have booked, and taken, my Module 2 (case studies) at the same time. With periodic training, drivers can only attend if they have an applicable licence category (C1, C, CE, D1, D or DE) on their licence. I assumed that this would be the same for Initial CPC – that I’d need to actually get the licence first – but apparently not.

 

The multi-choice questions themselves weren’t what I’d describe as challenging – a lot of the answers are common sense, with the correct one being obvious if nothing else through the process of elimination. If I had to guess, I’d say the main reason that people fail is due to not reading the question properly.

 

100 questions is a lot. Before long you feel like you’re wading through treacle – and then you see you’re only on question 23! Rumour has it that the guards at Guantanamo Bay resort to using it where all other techniques have failed. My advice: make sure you’re fed, watered, had a reasonable amount of sleep and don’t need to use the loo before you go in.

 

The hazard perception was similar in that it felt like it dragged on for some time, although, given the interactive nature of it, less so than the multiple choice. The clips are all computer generated now – so easier to watch than the low-res dashcam footage used in years gone by – and surprisingly realistic!

 

Something I found out when doing the practice runs with the hazard perception is that I would sometimes identify a hazard before the video deemed it to be one. Click too early and you’ll score 0 points (out of 5) so it’s worth doing a few spaced-out clicks to make sure you don’t do the same. Be careful, though, as clicking too much will also score you 0 for “responding in an unacceptable manner”.

 

Useful to know: there are various practice apps you can download for about £5 which allow you to practice both the multiple choice and hazard perception parts of the test on a mobile or tablet. It’s a worthwhile investment just so you know what to expect on the day.

 

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The Practical

This is where things start getting a bit different. What’s on offer as far as practical training varies from provider to provider. I did my training in three four-hour blocks (1:1) with an hour or so before the test on the morning of day four.

 

Personally, I started to struggle a bit with concentration towards the end of the sessions, so if you think you’d be the same, you might prefer to go with a provider that offers 2:1 training. Doing it that way would mean you’re not behind the wheel for such long periods at a time, but the flipside is you’ll need longer to get the same amount of practice in and, therefore, complete your training. Swings and roundabouts. Lots of roundabouts!

 

Test-day nerves didn’t affect me too much. I had the advantage of having taken my B+E test only 6 months before, however, so I had a good idea of what to expect. During the training, I was told about the acronym GOSH (Gear Observation Signal Handbrake). I almost made a hash of it two minutes in by attempting the hill start in Neutral!

 

Fortunately I caught it early and the rest of the drive was OK.

 

Useful to know: when you’re doing the reverse manoeuvre, you’re allowed to shunt if you’ve gone off-line. You’re also allowed to get out the cab and look to see just how close the rear of the vehicle is to the barrier. Doing either of these won’t pick you up any minors, but not going back close enough, or going outside of the set boundaries, is an instant fail – so it’s worth playing it safe.

 

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The Module 4

I couldn’t, and still can’t really, get my head around why the Module 4 (and Module 2) CPC tests aren’t just integrated with the current Module 1 (theory) and Module 3 (practical) tests. How they can justify someone being able to drive an HGV, even if it is restricted to “not for hire or reward”, without having to demonstrate knowledge of how to secure a load or check that the vehicle is actually roadworthy is beyond me.

 

Anyway, the Module 4 practical demonstration is, like the other theory-based elements, fairly straightforward. There are set questions that you can be asked, with certain pre-determined answers that you need to cover to keep the examiner happy. Topics include load security, border security and defect checks (demonstrating a full daily walk round).

 

Useful to know: some training providers are accredited as Module 4 test centres. This means that the provider you do the training with can also carry out the module 4 test. It saves having to go to the DVSA test centre, which can sometimes be quite some distance away, and means you’ll be doing your test in a familiar environment. The person who has been training you, however, shouldn’t be the same person who takes your test.

 

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Getting on the Road

This is where I was at a real advantage. Having good relationships with lots of local operators meant it was fairly easy for me to find one that was happy for me to go out alongside one of our Platinum drivers to clock up some real-world (as opposed to “book-world”, as my trainer called it) miles.

 

Having learned and taken my test in a single rear axle 18 tonner, this was a bit of a step up. My first drive was a 32-tonne twin steer axle beaver tail with about 8ft overhang from the rear axle (the one in the picture at the topof this page) . And instead of having a few IBCs on the back, we were hauling a variety of dumpers, diggers and various attachments to accompany them.

 

I would absolutely recommend this approach (double-manning) to any new drivers looking for experience. Having the knowledge that there’s someone experienced with you who can both offer on-the-job advice and get you out of a tight spot if needed, was really valuable. As it turned out the only time we needed to swap drivers was when I was running out of hours (rather than taking a second 30-minute break) so it was a great confidence-builder too.

 

Useful to know: your practical training probably won’t include anything about using a tachograph. This is simply because, when you’re training, you don’t need to use one. I had experience of using one from towing our 2-tonne exhibition trailer, but if you’ve not come across one before, make sure you ask your co-driver to talk you through it or try and get on a digital tachographs Driver CPC module. They’re not self-explanatory so if you get stuck and you’ve not got anyone to ask, it can cause you problems!

 

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Hopefully my experience will prove useful for you if it’s a path you’re considering taking. If you still have questions or if you’re already qualified and are looking for work – get in touch!

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