Many people think that because they’re a confident and competent car driver, they’ll find the transition to being a lorry driver easy. However, although a full Category B car driving licence is required to become a lorry and HGV driver, there are some key differences when it comes to driving each type of vehicle. The increased size and weight of a lorry will present some unique challenges for a new driver, but the good news is that the training you’ll receive will help ensure you’re ready to hit the road safely and responsibly, as soon as you qualify.
If you’re thinking of upgrading your car driving licence and embarking on a career as a lorry driver, then here are some of the differences you’ll encounter during your HGV driver training:
Lane discipline is essential, whatever vehicle you’re driving. However, in a car this is relatively easy. After all, an average sized car is only 4 metres in length. But given that an articulated lorry can measure up to 16.5 metres, and a drawbar combination can be up to 18.75 m long, this is more of a challenge in a lorry than it is in a car. Manoeuvring between lanes and positioning yourself at junctions requires more planning in an HGV, and there’s far less room for error than there is in a car. Likewise, pulling away from a parked position requires far more safety checks and will require a longer gap in traffic.
Lorries are not only larger in size, but they are also far heavier. An average car will weigh 4,000 pounds, or 2 tonnes, but a fully loaded HGV can weigh up to 44 tonnes. This means lorries will have more momentum than a car, and will take far longer to stop than a car travelling at the same speed.
Lorries also have far more sophisticated braking systems than a car. A car will have a pedal-operated braking system that relies on hydraulics, as well as a parking brake. Lorries utilise a far more sophisticated system that utilises air brakes. This has three types of brake – the service brake, which is the main brake for stopping the vehicle; a secondary brake, which is used in emergencies; and a parking brake. So braking in a lorry is very different to braking in a car, but it’s something you’ll quickly get used to, as well as the increased braking distances.
The increased weight and size of a lorry, compared with a car, means it will take longer to manoeuvre. Whether this is pulling away, turning at a junction or overtaking other road users, you’ll need to be aware of the increased time and space you’ll need. It can take a while to get to grips with this, but it will soon become second nature.
Another issue for HGV drivers that car drivers don’t face is the wide turning circle. Some right turns at junctions will be staggered, allowing more room for HGV drivers to manoeuvre, but it’s something all drivers need to be aware of.
Cars come with two main types of gearbox – manual and automatic. They will usually have five or six forward gears and one reverse gear. However, lorries can have up to 18 forward gears and 4 gears for reverse. Yes, the majority of HGVs with this amount of gears will nowadays have automatic transmission, but you can still drive older models that are manual. The reason for the number of gears is the sheer torque that’s required to move a vehicle that can weigh 44 tonnes. The difference in speed between gears is far lower than in a car. It can be as little as 3mph in a lorry, as opposed to 0-20mph for first gear in cars, and anything over 40 mph for sixth gear.
Manual HGVs will also have an unsynchronised gearbox. This means you’ll also have to master double de-clutching. This method of gear shifting involves depressing the clutch twice during a gear change – once to shift out of gear to neutral and a second time to put it into a new gear. Very different to your average car gearbox!
One final difference to note is that in lorries, gear use is also an important means for managing fuel consumption. Using cruise control will minimise unnecessary braking and acceleration, and can save as much as 6% of fuel consumption. Also, minimising your cruising speed and driving in the highest gear possible are all great techniques.
Chances are, as a car driver you’ll at some point have seen the sign ‘if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you’ at the back of an HGV. The reason for this is that a lorry has far more and far larger blind spots than a car has. These include blind spots at the front, along the sides and at the rear of the vehicle. An HGV driver learns how to drive safely and responsibly, and is aware of this, but unfortunately many car drivers and cyclists do not. Pass a lorry too slowly – sitting in the blind spot – or drive too close behind, and the lorry driver won’t be aware you’re there.
In a car, you can look over your shoulder and see your blind spot. This helps ensure safe overtaking manoeuvres as well as safe left- and right-hand turns. This is simply not possible in a heavy goods vehicle, and makes left hand turns especially tricky. The driver has blind spots on the front diagonal and down the sides, meaning they won’t see cyclists. This may sound daunting, but it’s one of the driving skills you’ll gain during the training process.
Reversing a car is very different to reversing a lorry. Unlike car drivers who can use their rear view mirror and side mirrors, lorry drivers have to rely solely on their side mirrors, unless they have a camera fitted. Some, but not all, will also have a reversing alarm. Reversing is especially tricky for lorry drivers with a trailer, but with practice and training, this manoeuvre can easily be perfected.
This may not actually be a difference in terms of driving each type of vehicle. But if you want to qualify as a driver, the route to becoming a lorry driver is a little more complex than gaining a car driving licence. In order to gain your Category B car licence, you need to be at least 17 years old and hold a provisional licence. There are two steps involved – a theory test, followed by a practical. There are also no set hours of practical driver training.
In contrast, to work commercially as a lorry driver, you’ll need to pass the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) for the category of vehicle you’ll be driving – C1, C1+E, C or C+E. There are four steps – two theory, and two practical elements – and you’ll need to complete between 4 and 20 hours of driver training, depending on your requirements. Don’t be put off by the training procedure. It’s very straightforward and achievable, and ensures a high standard of driving.
A further difference in the licensing procedure is that a Category B car driving licence doesn’t require any refresher training. However, in order to keep their Driver CPC card and work for a living, lorry drivers need to undertake 35 hours of Periodic CPC training, every 5 years.
So while lorries and cars share the same road, as you can see, there are some key differences in the way they are operated and controlled. More understanding would definitely help, and cut the number of road accidents due to last-minute manoeuvres by car drivers and a greater understanding of sharing the road. It may seem daunting moving from driving a car to an HGV, but we can assure you that the transition can be smooth and stress-free. Especially if you choose the right training provider.
If you’re interested in training to become a lorry driver then get in touch today. We provide industry-leading training across over 90 training centres nationwide, so you can train in a local road network you’re familiar with. We’ll provide you with a dedicated training provider and can help you every step of the way – from organising your medical exam and provisional licence, all the way to passing first time and securing employment. Call us on 0800 0744 007 or get a quote using our handy online form.