Submission to DTAL review process

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New road safety initiatives announced by the NT government in 2009 include a new driver training and licensing program "DriveSafe NT" to replace the current DTAL (Driver Training And Licensing) program.

Below is the latest version (v.4) of my submission to the review process, first written during the week leading up to the Darwin seminar 5th May 2009 - the latest version is basically the same as the the one submitted at the seminar, it has been expanded on a little.

Please note: although many say they agree with what I've written in part or in full, this is my own work and those who have issues with this document should direct their comments to me only (see my contact details at the bottom of the document).

  1. Wider Consultation Needed
  2. Auditing and Control
  3. Vehicle On Road Test (VORT) & Licence Testing Officers (LTO)
  4. Driver Training And Licensing Program (DTAL) & the Log Book
  5. DTAL Theory
  6. Remote Area Training & Licensing
  7. In Conclusion ...
  8. Current DTAL Log Book Competencies
  9. Contact author
1. WIDER CONSULTATION NEEDED
  NT instructors who are members of ADTA (NSW) Ltd have not been included in the Driver Training Industry forums held between Dept of Planning & Infrastructure and local association members.
ALL stakeholders should be invited when such forums are held (including representatives from Police, Road Safety Council etc).
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2. AUDITING and CONTROL
  We need and REGULAR, MEANINGFUL and EFFECTIVE auditing of...
  • Instructors
    ...to ensure that they implement adequate training & assessment techniques and that they cover all important aspects of defensive driving in their day to day operations.

    Registered DTAL Instructors should be audited to ensure that they don’t just " train to pass a VORT " which seems to be common practice.
    It’s not just a road safety issue - the logbook is funded by the NT Government through taxpayer’s money, so the government has a duty of care to ensure that subsided training is provided correctly.

  • Licence Testing Officers (LTOs)
    ...to ensure that they do not include inappropriate interpretation of VORT procedures & marking during tests.

  • Registered Training Organisations (RTOs)
    ...to ensure that they don’t sign off certificates before the client has achieved sufficient competency.
    RTOs are audited under the AQF, but this auditing is paperwork based and is about compliance, not training & assessment techniques.

    A common approach to driver training by RTOs is to offer a set number of pre-paid in-vehicle lessons, with the promise of a certificate at the end, resulting in the "target" being to obtain a certificate at the end of the set number of lessons, not to achieve the required competencies.
    It is galling for a non-RTO trainer to "lose" a student to an RTO and then to learn that this person has their provisional licence – when the trainer is sure that they could not have achieved this level in such a short time.

    I have reason to believe that at least one NT instructor trained & certified by an RTO has received little or no in-car sessions at all as part of their training and assessment.
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3. VEHICLE ON ROAD TEST (VORT) and LICENCE TESTING OFFICERS (LTO)
  VORT:
There is a perception by some Licence Testing Officers and some instructors that the Vehicle On Road Test (VORT) is the pinnacle of driver assessment and achievement. VORT is a "snapshot" test – it doesn’t adequately cover many aspects of defensive driving such as appropriate scanning and use of side mirrors, and does not cover the wide range of situations that a candidate might encounter in their driving life.

Special (in the marking sheet General Drive section) is almost never used, showing that LTOs tend to mark in a robotic fashion with little regard to a candidate’s reaction to situations such as unexpected road blockages, giving safe passage to emergency vehicles, response to risk-taking actions by pedestrians etc.

Artificial VORT tightening: Remove "artificial tightening" such as penalising dry steering, and the reverse parallel park-on-poles, in favour of performance checks which reflect candidates’ ability to drive safely and legally in traffic.

Dry steering is undesirable and should be strongly discouraged by instructors, but a candidate can fail their whole test simply as a result of dry-steering.

The reverse parallel park on poles is in excellent training exercise, but I do not consider it to be fair a fair assessment technique because success depends largely on the LTO setting the poles up correctly – which doesn’t always happen – and some candidates are excused this manoeuvre if they are lucky enough to do their test during very windy or wet weather. The thin low-visibility poles used by the MVR are not conducive to fair assessment and add to the risk of performing this artificial exercise on a road carrying traffic, nor is an exercise fair if an LTO has to get out of the car to see if the manoeuvre has been kept within the physical limits imposed (while the candidate stays inside).

VORT needs less emphasis on car control, more on defensive driving skills.

Improve VORT:
Include more high-risk situations such as large roundabouts and filter turns.

My suggestion is to have 6 manoeuvres – Moving Off, U-Turn, 90 Angle Park, Reverse Park behind a car, Multi-point Turn, and Reversing along a Kerb – 4 of the 6 to be done at the LTO’s discretion or as road conditions dictate.

Only one U-turn in a narrow median strip gap is included on current Top End routes There are no U-turns at wide median strip gaps, opposite side roads, in widened right-hand bends, from narrow terminating roads, and in cul-de-sacs.

Some instructors only teach those types of U-turns included in VORT, so increasing the range of U-turns would encourage these instructors to widen the range of their teaching.

The Moving Off Procedure ("hill start") on VORT and in the log book places too much emphasis on selecting the gear before signalling. Candidates who check traffic, signal and then select gear are not necessarily doing anything unsafe or undesirable, yet they will fail the manoeuvre – even the test – because of this. As far as I’m aware, most Australian jurisdictions place priority on checking traffic then signalling before selecting gear.

LTO skills:
Some LTOs seem to be lacking defensive driving knowledge & skills e.g., missing a test-route turn then directing the candidate to perform a U-turn in a dangerous location.

LTO experience:
Driver training experience is an asset for persons conducting driver assessment – one advantage being that it helps the examiner to understand why novice drivers respond to certain situations in certain ways. Most LTOs do not have this experience, and it shows in some of the de-briefing. Training experience in remote communities is an asset but not as useful as the experience gained from training in major NT centres.

LTO duties are very stressful and are often outright dangerous. Allow them to rest between tests, not serve at the counter which could be considered demeaning and often causes delays in starting tests (also unfair for nervous test candidates).

Test centres:
Test centres in large areas should be located separately from general customer service areas. Perhaps the authorities should consider positioning a test centre to service the CBD and northern suburbs.

Consistency:
More consistency from LTOs is needed; many seem to put their own interpretation on VORT procedures. E.g. forcing a conservation with the candidate during a test "because that’s what you’ll get when driving with passengers".

Perhaps there should be a review of the VORT interpretations manual.

Test routes:
Some LTOs seem reluctant to vary test routes on a test-by-test basis, this encourages instructors to train to "an LTO’s favourite route". The test routes are not particularly well balanced, and more routes would be an advantage.

Test booking delays:
Test booking delays have blown out to 2 months or more – encouraging learners to book their test well before they are ready. Currently, I have students who have booked their test too early but refuse to rebook because of the long wait involved – this is very frustrating.

Resourcing personnel:
Are MVR staff being "forced" into LTO positions?
MVR should be willing to recruit QUALIFIED & EXPERIENCED examiners and auditors, from interstate if necessary.

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4. DRIVER TRAINING AND LICENSING PROGRAM (DTAL) & the LOG BOOK
  Repeating DTAL:
Some DTAL students are mature enough to realise that they are not yet ready within themselves to commence driving – this usually occurs after they start the program.
Current DTAL guidelines allow voucher expiry-date extension for students who pace themselves in a sensible fashion (very commendable), but policy should also allow those students who drop training for the reason of not being ready, to re-start the program at a later date when they do feel ready.

Log book competencies:
There are no serious issues with competencies in the current form, although the placement of two of the competencies doesn’t make sense.
No.16 (Moving Off up-hill), a basic car control skill, should be positioned before the PR1 not after, and No.12 (U-Turns) is a manoeuvre and should be after the PR1. More types of U-turns should be included.

At least one drive in Darwin’s CBD in normal working-hour conditions should be included as a log book competency.

Misuse of log book & vouchers:
Many instructors are by-passing log-book competencies not included in VORT and using it as a cheap way for their students to pass their VORT – bolstering the current culture of regarding fast tracking & short cuts as being normal and acceptable.
A notable example is deliberately not doing No.21 (Night Drive) – or worse, signing it off as being achieved without doing it at all.

I’ve seen log books where competencies 1 – 12 are signed off after the first lesson.
Even if the student is actually competent it is impossible to even assess them within the time frame of one lesson. Instructors do this to make themselves popular with students but this practice is outrageous and must be stopped immediately.
Impressionable young learners who’ve been signed off in this fashion are not only being mistreated, they regard themselves as high achievers because "it’s official".

Incentive to complete the log book:
Most DTAL students have little if any incentive to see the log book through, all they want is their "P’s" and many instructors will accommodate them on this with little or no resistance.

Instructors who strive to cover all log book competencies have enormous difficulty in achieving this because of the culture existing among DTAL students (and often their parents as well).

Commitment:
Most 16 year olds are lacking in traits such as insight, commitment, self discipline, understanding high risk behaviour, and a sense of responsibility, which are still being developed. Being impressionable, deficiencies in their attitude and driving skills at this early age will lock them onto a potentially destructive course of behaviour which could culminate in injury or death.

Entry age:
NT should consider increasing the minimum age to undergo VORT, and introduce minimum logged hours similar to other Australian jurisdictions.

Codes of Practice (COPs):
We have two good COPs, from DTAL via the Dept of Education and Training (DET), and the Motor Vehicle Registry (MVR) via the Dept of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI).

COPs are not effective without auditing (i.e. to allow issues to be identified) or if students are reluctant to complain. Students are reluctant to complain because they don’t know they have actually been mistreated, (a result of the culture mentioned earlier and because many students don’t experience correct procedures to compare their iinstructor with).

Ways of making the complaints procedure seem "more friendly and accessible" should be looked at.
And ... audit!

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5. DTAL THEORY
  Cramming:
The DTAL theory content is OK, but – we are either cramming the students through over-intensive provision, or missing out on subject matter.
Encourage the institutions which provide DTAL theory to arrange for classes to be held over a longer time frame.

Theory providers:
Theory providers should be people with driver training experience instead of general school teachers, they have a deeper understanding of road safety issues.

Assessment:
The Theory 1 assessment needs a major re-write, some questions are confusingly worded and some test a candidate’s English comprehension instead of the subject matter.

The papers are multiple-choice format, this is OK but some choices seem to be put there to "pad-out" the answer list to four (A, B, C, D) There is no need to have four answer choices to every question, in many cases a simple two-answer choice of "yes" or "no" will suffice.

Many choices are sentences which differ in only one or two key-words which many candidates, from lack of English comprehension or from being under pressure, often fail to identify.
These key words must be emphasised in some way, or that style of questioning scrapped altogether.

More questions need explanatory diagrams, and some existing diagrams are unclear (e.g. pixellated from being imported in low resolution bit-map format instead of the originally-supplied vector format).

As a result we have a large failure rate from students who "knew the answers but didn’t understand the questions".

We recently had a DTAL theory workshop presided by a previous DTAL Program Manager where this was discussed, but no action was taken.
Attendees with minimal or no experience in education (driver training in particular) were allowed to dominate the session, and there was no satisfactory outcome at all.
When reviewing DTAL, people with extensive experience in driver training & assessment, road safety and preferably in general education as well should be consulted.
(NOTE: RTOs should NOT be automatically considered as being industry leaders unless they or their trainers have the relevant skills and experience!).

DTAL Program Management:
DTAL management is now administrative only, I can understand the difficulty in recruiting personnel with driver training experience but it does present problems.
Comments re night driving from a previous DTAL Manager ...
"A signed voucher is evidence that a night drive has been done, so no in-car auditing is required" – how naive – and ...
"What is there to teach on a night drive anyway?"
Please ensure that DTAL Managers have ready access to any help they need.

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6. REMOTE AREA TRAINING & LICENSING
  Resources:
I have had success using road models and miniature cars when operating for RTOs in remote communities. Indigenous people respond well to training and assessing which has a highly "visible" content.
Special resources for training and assessing in remote areas should be developed e.g. road models, portable Stop & Give Way signs for training purposes, and perhaps a purpose-written Road User handbook for remote communities.

Cultural differences:
Cultural differences between Yolgnu (indigenous) and balanda (European) people add severe difficulties to training.
In particular, identifying individuals for licensing purposes, explaining the importance of balanda licensing systems, keeping appointments, avoiding conflict situations between trainer and trainee (e.g. intruding on a ceremony or speaking a taboo name), and avoiding conflict between individuals with certain obligations to each other under indigenous law.

Cross-cultural workshops:
The government came into direct conflict with indigenous land owners when microwave towers were erected across NT and QLD, so Telecom personnel involved (including myself) were sent to Darwin’s Nungalinya College for cross-cultural workshops with indigenous facilitators.

I do not know the current status of Nungalinya, but workshops of this type would be very beneficial to trainers working remotely.

Special remote-area licensing (?):
It is impossible to adequately prepare drivers for urban driving such as traffic lights, multiple lanes, 2-lane roundabouts, dense traffic etc when the training is provided only in remote areas.
We have a split licensing system for Commercial Passenger Vehicle (CPV) drivers, why not with remote communities?

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7. IN CONCLUSION ...
  The high NT road toll reflects the level of our general driving skills and our misplaced self-evaluation of these skills, and our attitude towards drink driving, appropriate speed, wearing seatbelts etc.
Driving skills and attitude are shaped by influences from family, friends & peers, social mores, even sporting heroes (race car drivers), the type of driver training received (or not received), and licensing assessment.
We can’t do much about these ’ except for driver training & assessing.

Training & assessment standards in the NT have been allowed to drop to unacceptable levels through neglect by government departments overseeing general licensing (VORT), the DTAL program, Commercial Passenger Vehicle (CPV) training & assessing, and training & certification provided under the Australian Quality Framework (e.g. TDTC197B and instructor certification).

As well as providing a much stronger auditing role, the government should look closely at the professional development (PD) of our instructors, LTOs and auditors.

PD for instructors is a role for instructor associations, however the authorities should from time to time audit instructors in the areas of training as well as assessing.
In regards to PD for auditors and LTOs, the authorities should be prepared to seek help from outside i.e. to consult, and if necessary recruit, interstate personnel who have appropriate qualifications, skills and experience.

Does NT government recognise the importance of the role that their licence testing staff (LTOs) have in regards to road safety?
It doesn’t seem that way.
As mentioned previously the LTO’s job is stressful and dangerous and there seems to be a high turnover.
Effective LTOs are worth their weight in gold ’ their training, personal development (and pay rates) should be looked at more closely.
Part of their PD can be achieved by having LTOs with no driver training experience "sit in" on driving lessons with instructors, perhaps even theory classes.

The current forums between government representatives and the local instructor association are closed door to many of us in the driver training industry.
The forums should be open to a wider range of key players and stakeholders, and minutes made accessible (e.g. via DPI’s excellent web site).

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8. CURRENT DTAL LOG BOOK COMPETENCIES
 
  1. Controls
  2. Cabin Drill
  3. Starting Up procedure
  4. Moving Off procedure
  5. Steering Control
  6. Gear Changing
  7. Speed control (speed zones, appropriate speed to travel, not breaking speed limit)
  8. Slowing procedure
  9. Turns, left and right
  10. Stopping procedure
  11. Give Way Rules
  12. U-Turns
Progress Review 1 (PR1)
  1. Reversing (along a kerb)
  2. Right Angle Parking
  3. Reverse Parallel Parking (behind a parked car)
  4. Moving Off procedure / Hill Start
  5. Turning Around in the Road (multi-point turns)
  6. Lane Changing, Merging, Form One Lane.
  7. Overtaking
  8. Observation Skills, Visual Searching and Scanning, Hazard Recognition.
  9. Night Driving
  10. Compliance with the System Of Car Control
Progress Review 2 (PR2)
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John Ziersch
(Registered DTAL Instructor No.146)







v4 - 2nd June 2009

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