If you’re keeping up with progress towards our new motorhome, you’ll recall that I last left you in August at a point where I needed to get a licence to drive something over 7.5 tonnes before being able to go shopping for a suitable chassis and cab. This post shares what’s happened since then.
I started off by going for a driving licence medical test, which is a legal requirement before even getting a Category C provisional licence. With that successfully passed (and, in all honesty, you’d need to be in pretty poor shape to fail) I posted my completed D4 (medical report) and D2 (licence application) forms off to the DVLA. When doing this, and following a number of discussions with my family, I ticked all the boxes to become an organ donor. This seems reasonable to me as it would be extraordinarily selfish to refuse to donate something which I’d be very grateful to receive if on the other end of the process.
In the fullness of weeks I was rewarded with my first-ever photocard driving licence, replete with new provisional Category C (rigid vehicles over 7.5 tonnes Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM)) entitlement. I personally can’t see the point of having both a sheet of paper, and a photocard, as separate (but entirely useless when separated!) documents, unless it’s some attempt at ID cards by stealth, but that’s another matter entirely.
Now I could prove my provisional entitlement, I could go for a driving assessment. The assessment would of course be done in a commercial truck, rather than a motorhome, because that’s the reason most people want the licence. The purpose of this assessment, at least in theory, is for the prospective driver training school to assess the prospective pupil’s skills and estimate how much training they will need to pass the test. I’m told by friends who have done this before that the normal is four days training, with the test on the fifth day, so it came as no great surprise to me that this was the result of my assessments too.
Beware HGV Training Brokers — Having seen on TV precisely how many dodgy so-called training schools abound I viewed the assessment as an opportunity to both establish that the school is genuine (I didn’t want to blow a chunk of my overland campervan budget on a con-artist) and to see if I liked the instructor’s style. To get some basis for comparison, I went for three assessments: two with local companies and one (on the basis of a friend’s recommendation) somewhat further afield.
The first place I went for an assessment was an independent local school that had an 18 tonne MAM Renault truck that, I thought, drove just like a car. Certainly it was no harder to drive than a smaller Iveco Eurocargo I’ve hired before on my car licence to move furniture. The assessor made a point of telling me that this truck was the easiest to pass a Category C driving test in because it’s wheelbase was the minimum the DSA would accept for a test, and the body had been specially shortened (with the rear overhang removed) to make it easier for learners to drive. Sure I wanted a Cat C licence, but even more than that I wanted to learn to drive a big truck (which is effectively what our new giant campervan will be), so this school was a non-starter for me. It didn’t help that the assessor wouldn’t have been my instructor, and I wanted to assess teaching styles too.
Next up was a local branch of a well-respected chain of schools, where a friend of mine (who until very recently drove as a tramper for Eddie Stobart’s) was trained. They had a Mercedes truck which was in such a poor state of repair that I had to wait several minutes after starting the engine for the air-suspended driving seat to rise to the correct height, because of an air leak in the system that was evidently overdue for repair. It also transpired that the truck was so old as to fail emissions regs and thus not be allowed into the nearest test centre any longer, meaning that we’d have been spending 2 (or more!) hours each day driving round the M25 to another area to practice in. This didn’t strike me as a good plan so, despite the instructor who was assessing me being very capable, I decided not to go with this school either. It didn’t help that the youth I was stuck with in the back-office was about as unhelpful, arrogant, and evasive, as you could ever wish to avoid.
So I booked myself in with the Scania Driver Training School in Avonmouth (near Bristol) to have an assessment there. The conclusion was the same as before (4 days training, test on 5th day) but I was impressed with both assessor/instructor (Roy Juggins) and back-office admin (Jayne Hamley) and therefore decided to book on there. As a bonus(!), the truck itself struck me as being the hardest of the three to drive, meaning there was the most potential to learn something that would be of use with our new motorhome.
In my next post I’ll tell you about my hazard perception and theory tests, both necessary before taking the practical test for our big motorhome. In the meantime if you’ve enjoyed this post please say thank you by sharing it with others and/or leaving a comment below.