Interview with Mark Dodd, AdvanceDrive

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TomSharkeyMarkDodd Tom Sharkey & Mark Dodd

Sligo based Mark Dodd, Managing Director, AdvanceDrive is in a unique position to discuss issues within the broad portfolio that is Driving Instruction. Mark is an Approved Driving Instructor (adi), and AdvanceDrive is approved by the RSA to deliver its adi training programme to prospective adis. Mark is an approved trainer for the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) and the Transport Manager’s Certificate of Competence (CILT). AdvanceDrive is also an ‘Approved Training Organisation’ for the delivery of the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council’s Emergency Driving syllabus, (the organisation that set training and testing standards for the ambulance sector), and in addition to training ambulance drivers to advanced standard.

In the lead up to the Chief Fire Officer’s Conference 2010 Jarlath Sweeney met up with Mark.

JS Has the Driver CPC requirement finally sunk-in amongst the HGV and PSV sectors that the course is a positive move in creating and raising standards in the industry?

MD Not yet or for a long time to come I think. It will take time to change the negative attitudes among drivers as training within the transport sector to date has been poor and drivers in general are very reluctant to take part in any training. More often than not because they are simply not used to it. We train quite a lot in the emergency services where a very good culture of training and refresher programmes exists and because of this culture we rarely encounter resistance or negative attitudes. Until training becomes the norm in the transport sector and the courses have a more credible image negative attitudes will persist. This lack of credibility is also contributed to by the theory only training material. Driving is a practical occupation and it is my experience that without a practical element, drivers can find it most difficult to relate to theory alone. Notwithstanding fairly positive assessment sheets drivers in private will generally admit to not seeing the training as relevant. There is also the perception among course participants that many of the trainers are simply not up to delivering CPC material and do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the subject they are teaching. I have heard of many cases, from reliable sources I might add, where trainers simply spend the day reading from the book without using the slide presentations or any reference material. I would like to see CPC trainers going through an examination and testing process similar to the very comprehensive and professional ‘Approved Driver Instruction’ testing process conducted by the RSA on driving instructors.

JS When will we see a practical element introduced into the Eco-Driving module?

MD Not soon enough! The weakness of the EU allowing each Member State to transpose the Directive as they saw fit has resulted in Driver CPC being delivered in many different ways in different countries. For example if I was to undertake Driver CPC in Denmark or Holland it is likely that I would spend more than half of the required 35 hours in a truck. I have been training drivers for Scania in economical driving practices since 1998 and it is simply not possible to have effective training unless it is done in a loaded vehicle over a specific route and utilizing a Flow-Meter to measure fuel usage. Theory in this instance will only reinforce the practical subject material and can never be effective training alone. The Irish Driver CPC system of theory only training will be weak and ineffective until a practical element is introduced.

JS As an improved Driving Instructor, what is the standard at present among the current batch of learner drivers?

MD It does not vary greatly from one year to another in our experience. The difference though since the introduction of the Driver CPC is that people are no longer taking the test simply ‘to have the truck license’. The people we now see are committed to getting their truck license with the objective of pursuing a career where a truck license is required such as a truck driver or heavy vehicle mechanic.

JS What is required to attract more young people into the sector – male and female?

MD Professional driving is poorly regarded, and even more so now than when I was driving in the eighties and nineties. This is because of an abundant supply of good quality drivers, mainly from abroad who are prepared to work for poor rates. Driver CPC will not improve this situation. Regulation and enforcement will eventually ensure drivers are not exploited by unscrupulous employers but only a leveling of standards of living among EU member states will ensure drivers demand better rates. Only then can the job become more attractive.

JS Part of your business takes in Driver Training and Advanced Driver Training for Emergency Services – what’s involved here?

MD We take personnel who have already passed their driving test, for the vehicle they are driving, Fire Appliance, Ambulance etc and take them through a 10 day Advanced Driver Programme based on the standard system of Police Advanced Driving. This involves refreshing the learner on basic driving skills in addition to teaching commentary skills, i.e. the driver, while driving is constantly identifying all actual and potential hazards encountered and talking through the correct position, speed and gear to negotiate the hazard. We also take the learner night driving and get them to perform several emergency stops under strictly controlled conditions. We also spend up to 1.5 hours covering theory each day, an important part of which is teaching how our attitudes affect the way we drive and how we learn or why we do not from our mistakes. At the end of ten days learners are tested by an ex-Garda Driving School Tester and if successful are accredited as an advanced driver. We provide refresher training after 5 years.

JS The Scania Young European Truck Driver of the Year Competition comes around in 2010, you are involved in the organisation of same again?

MD Yes, I am this year’s co-ordinator again and delighted to be asked. Of course with the economic climate we must cut our cloth accordingly and the competition will be smaller but good drivers will have ample opportunity to take part and represent Ireland in Sweden. We have 3 RSA Driving Testers again as assessors and judging panel again this year and I would like to pass on thanks to Michael Rowland of the RSA for his help. Anyone interested should log on to www.scania.ie and navigate through the Driver Competition section to apply.

JS Of course, the Irish representative can go one step further than Tom Sharkey who finished runner-up in the European Finals last time around.

MD Yes, Tom came second in 2007 and did us proud and I’m sure we will have as good a finalist again this year. It would be great to see the new Scania R-series truck, (which is first prize) coming to Ireland.

JS Is the Economical Driver Training attracting more attention among the fleet sector since the recession came in?

MD Not at all. The last company I provided training for, (in February) only asked for the training as one of their client companies had requested that they provide details of any economical training their drivers had undergone. Economical Driver Training will normally reduce fuel usage in excess of 10%. Although we charge the equivalent of an average trucks monthly fuel saving per driver even then it is a difficult product to try to sell.

JS What are the elements that can bring about the return on investment?

MD We teach drivers to read the road ahead and drive as if they were cycling, i.e. let gravity do the work downhill, use as little power as possible on the flat and on uphill stretches ease off the power before cresting the hill. Also by looking ahead the driver can keep the truck rolling more often and reduce fuel-costly stop/starts

JS Apart from driver training on behalf of Scania in Ireland you have also delivered fleet training for Scania HQ Sweden in Sudan and India, they must be interesting projects?

MD Very interesting. The Sudan project involved training drivers on Scania Opti-Cruise transmission as the client company of 800 trucks had recently purchased 200 Opti-Cruise units. The typical unit was an 8×4 tractor unit towing a tri-axle trailer that in turn pulled a dolly connected to a second tri-axle trailer, overall the unit was about 50 meters long. All training had to be done through an interpreter which posed some challenges, especially when I was attempting to define traffic ‘hazards’ which the interpreter was translating as ‘hazard warning lights’. Also Sudan is a dry country but we were told that ‘real’ beer, (there was plenty of non-alcoholic brands to be had), could be bought in a Chinese restaurant but was served in a teapot. This sounded like too much of a tall tale and had to be investigated and I can, after exhaustive research assure anyone going to Sudan that the Chinese in downtown Khartoum does indeed serve beer in a teapot!

In India, Scania had just delivered their first unit, an 8×4 tipper to be used in the open cast coal mining sector. My brief was to train drivers and instructors but I ended up driving the truck, for the purpose of benchmarking it against the competition, for 5 days at temperatures in excess of 50 degrees centigrade. We were 16% more efficient than the nearest competitor truck and an order for 40 Scania vehicles was signed between the Indian Importer and customer at the end of the week. I returned six months later to train the newly recruited trainers and help establish the Scania India training syllabus and testing standard.

In both cases the people were fantastic, most welcoming and helpful but travelling by road in either country is an extremely hazardous exercise.

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