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Training and Testing – A week of Hard Work

March 26, 2011

Over the last week I have being on a training course in an attempt to get my LGV Cat “C” Licence. This is required in the UK to drive any vehicle over 7.5 tonnes. In fact if you passed your driving test after 1997 further testing is required to drive anything over 3.5 tonnes.

On Monday I was booked to start my training at 7am (I know, that was a shock) in a yard in Addlestone in Surrey. I turned up and saw a couple of trucks with “EP Training” branding so walked over and quickly met my instructor for the week, John. The first surprise was just how big the trucks were. 10m long and 2.5m wide weighing 8 tonnes with a Max Gross Vehicle Weight of 18 tonnes.

The Cab was real climb up but the view from up there was amazing, totally different from a car. The gearbox was a bit more complicated that I had hoped for with 12 different gears. This is 6 primary gears and each has a high and a low. A switch on the gear stick allows you to select whether you want high or low and then a press of the clutch moves you into that gear. So for example if you are in 5 low (switch down and stick in position for fifth) to go to 5 high you would flick the switch up and then depress the clutch (not moving the stick) and the gearbox would change gear. Key thing is to remember to flick the switch down again after the gear change or you run the risk of ending up in the wrong gear at the next gear change.

Day 1: The training went pretty well with the unexpected bonus of the 2nd trainee failing to turn up. My week of 1 to 2 training had just turned into 1 to 1. This means at least an extra hours driving each day. So day 1 was trying to get used to the sheer size and momentum of the truck. The real problem on day 1 was hitting lots of curbs as you take turns because the turning circle is so much wider.

Day 2: was a progression from day 1 with the routes getting progressively harder. This is when I begin to realise that this is not as easy as I expected and that there are a lot of roundabouts in the Guildford area. But I continued to make steps forward. Problems today are getting the approach speed to maneuvers right and the road positioning for them too.

Day 3: Well they say that everyone has a disaster day and this was it for me. Everything that could go wrong did and I didn’t make any progress forward at all. This was also when I began to realise that my instructors style was not really well suited to me. Shouting at me after making mistakes just makes me snowball into making more mistakes. At the end of the day I am shattered and thinking that there is no way I’m going to pass the test. The one thing that went well today was some time spent doing the reversing exercise. In this you have to reverse back from one area into another over to the left and stop at a mocked up loading bay. I think this diagram explains it best. I did it four or five times and got it right every time.

Day 4:  This was the final day of training and things were progressing. Not nicely really but moving forward. I’ve still got problems with mirrors. John gave me a mock test and I failed but did the best bit of driving I’ve done so far. I did really get myself in a hole with a big junction where I got in the wrong lane and then ended up going through a red light (just) to get out of it because no one would let me move over. I think the main reason for doing better in the mock test was not having John shouting at me all the way through it. Anyway at the end of the day I am convinced that I am going to fail the test the next day.

Day 5: Chance for a lie in as I have arranged to meet John at the test centre at 9.30 in order to get in an hours practice before the 12.05 test. I get there  a bit late because of the parking but not a problem as there is plenty of time. We go out for a drive and to be honest it is horrible. I hit a kerb on a corner I’d done before and should know better and miss a turn that he’s told me to go down. I also go at a mini-roundabout where I should have given way to a car. All in all a disaster right before the test. Its made worse by John having a massive pop at me at the end of the hour. Anyway I have an hour before the test to collect my thoughts and prepare.

I am absolutely determined to give this a real big go. So I say two things to myself: 1) I will NOT fail on mirrors so will check mirrors again and again; 2) I will go at my own pace into every situation and if I get a few minors for “Not Making Progress” well so be it – much better than going too fast into a situation and then making mistakes because of it.

So the Test starts with meeting the Examiner, Geoff, and walking over to the vehicle. He begins by asking a few “Show Me, Tell Me” questions: I think these were – How do you check the headlights are working, Where do you fill the windscreen wash, How do you check the condition of the windscreen, How do you check the condition of the tyres and How do you check the power steering is working. I nailed all of these. So far so good and I start to get a bit of confidence.

Then its on to the reversing exercise. No problems, I don’t even have to get out to check that I’m in the right place. Again a small rise in confidence. I’m still thinking that I’m going to fail – John’s words of criticism ringing in my ears. The examiner gets in and we’re off. I adopt an attitude of one step at a time, do each manuever and then move on. After ten minutes he hasn’t written anything down so again my confidence rises it. We go over the nightmare junction I had had problems with all week – no errors. We do the independent driving (where he tells you to just follow the signs to somewhere) – again no errors. He has ticked a couple of things but I look over – only minor errors so far. I keep going and with each passing minute I begin to feel more positive but quickly banish all thoughts of success – just focus on the next job/next maneuver. After what seems like forever we are on the home straight back to the test centre – all I can think is “Stay focussed, don’t screw this up now”.

Then we arrive back at the test centre after an hour’s driving and park up. He turns to me and tells me……….

I’ve Passed. I can’t believe it so I ask him to say it again. And there it is. I’ve got 7 minors (You can have up to 15 as still pass). 3 of them are for not going fast enough – but I knew I’d pick these up but better a minor than something worse.

I get out and go round to meet John and quite frankly he’s pretty off. I think he wanted me to fail. Well tough. This was way harder than I thought it would be but mission accomplished and now we can move on to the next step.

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