Truck driving! My journey from B to C+E Class 1 in a week

For the last 10 years I’ve been thinking about obtaining my HGV licence. I wanted a Class 1 licence which lets you drive an artic, but previously that meant you first had to get a Class 2 (C) licence, and then you could get a Class 1 (C+E) thereafter. This additional requirement took a lot of time and money that I really didn’t feel was worth investing for what would’ve been a minimal return in general at the time. I did briefly consider doing the licence and buying a truck when we were looking to move the IBM 360’s, but Sunspeed’s great offer negated that idea, and thus I have since not really considered it. However, with the somewhat recent change in UK law enabling you to go directly from a car licence to a full Class 1 C+E, I finally decided it was worth doing.

The first step in all of this was to get my provisional licence. In order to obtain this I needed to get my D4 drivers medical completed. I did this with D4Drivers who are a national company that subcontract the medicals to doctors across the country. I had a £10 discount code so I paid £45 for the medical all in, and got a booking around 3 days later on the 17th of July. This went without a hitch as I’m happily in good health and have nothing notifiable etc. Once this was complete I completed the provisional licence documents and sent it all off to the DVLA who, shortly thereafter, returned my provisional licence. I was shocked to see that despite having sent my photo card in for the new licence, there were no additional categories on the back. It transpires that provisional categories are now only applied online; quite why one has to return ones photo card to obtain these I’m not sure.

Next up were the theory tests. As part of my overall package that I booked included the drivers CPC (which I’m unlikely to need but is nice to have), I had to add an additional theory test on for that. I did my theory tests in Milton Keynes and I did all three (Truck theory, hazard perception, and CPC case studies) all in one morning. Annoyingly they make you do one of them, come out, get your results, and then wait for another desk to be free to do the next one which takes more time that I would’ve liked, though the staff did their best to get me through quickly. The tests themselves are easy if you understand the road rules and have a basic knowledge of trucks, braking systems, drivers hours, and vehicle maintenance. The CPC case study test allots 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete as it wants you to read several case studies, but in my case I found I didn’t have to read them and could just answer the questions as they were basic road rules questions and didn’t relate at all to the case studies.

I booked my driver training with Commercial Transport Training (CTT) in Wing, Bedfordshire near where I live. They review extremely well online and I see their vehicles everywhere so they were the natural choice.

I started out on Friday the 13th (what a lucky day haha!) and met Fred, the owner of CTT, that morning. Fred took me out in an 18t rigid vehicle (an Iveco Eurocargo) for the first 4 hours of the day. The rigid was an interesting vehicle to drive as it was obviously quite long and non-articulating, but also had quite limited power, particularly when it came to hills, and I must say the brakes were worse than I had imagined they would be. I didn’t find driving the vehicle particularly hard, but I have to say I didn’t enjoy driving the rigid very much. Fred kindly bought me lunch at a roadside burger van before we headed back to the yard for the second part of the day.

18t Rigid Iveco Eurocargo

Once we returned I met Dave. Dave was to be my instructor for the rest of the week in the Artic (a Daf CF). Very soon after meeting him we hopped in the artic for the next 4 hours of the day. The artic I was driving was hooked up to a blue curtain sided rental trailer with no load in it as the usual trailer they use for this vehicle was out having an MOT and some work done.

Daf CF Tractor unit with blue curtain side rental trailer

I must say I found the artic considerably easier to drive than the rigid, despite it’s considerably larger size. It had a lot more power, and the brakes were fantastic (albeit with no load at this point). The first 3 hours went quite well, however coming towards the end I clipped a branch with the lower nearside wing mirror and broke the housing and glass. Not a great end to the day but Dave was extremely kind and told me it was a regular occurrence and that they’re not very expensive. I told him to send me the bill for the mirror but he said that they factor this into the training costs and not to worry about it. This all definitely made me feel better about it, though I still felt guilty over the whole thing. The upside of this was that it certainly fixed my road positioning on B roads (you basically have to drive ON the white line; somewhat disconcerting at first)!

The rest of my week went something like this:

Monday – 8am to 12pm. I spent the first three hours driving on the road, and the last hour practicing the S reverse for the 3a test.

Tuesday – 6:50am to 10:50am. First two hours on the road, and the next two hours practising the S reverse and the uncouple/re-couple for the 3a test the next day. I then did 12pm to 1pm CPC training session.

Wednesday – 8am to 1pm. When I arrived on Wednesday the trailer I had been using had gone back to the trailer rental company, and the regular one was ready for pickup in Hemel. I drove the tractor unit to Hemel Hempstead without the trailer, and picked up the regular trailer from the yard. This trailer had an 8t load in it, so it was my first time driving an artic with a load. Honestly, the tractor unit was excellent and I barely felt the difference. I imagine though with a few more tonnes in it you’d start feeling it! Effectively my first 3 hours of the day were spent on the road, and then practice of S reverse and uncouple/recouple, followed by the 3a test. The 3a off road skills test is conducted by an instructor now, not a DVSA examiner, however it is a different instructor to your usual one. I passed this one with no issues first time. I then had my CPC exam which I also passed easily first time.

Daf CF Tractor Unit with CTT branded trailer with 8t load View from the cab after the 3a off road skills test

Thursday – 2:30pm to 5pm. On road practice ahead of my 3b road test the next day. By this point I was feeling very confident in the truck, not making many mistakes, and just getting used to the finer points of driving a long vehicle on tight roads (apparently weight restrictions don’t apply if you’re training or on test, which is insane really but it does enable them to assess you on roads that are really not suitable for HGV’s!)

Friday 10am to 12:30pm. On road practice before test. 12:50pm to 13:50pm on road test with Ray from the DVSA centre in Leighton Buzzard. Ray was by far the best driving examiner I’ve ever had (through Car, Motorbike, and now Truck tests). He was uncharacteristically friendly, chatty(!), and interesting; his casual outward approach however masked an incredibly observant and on-the-ball examiner. I actually enjoyed the driving test, it just felt like I was out for a drive with a passenger. He put me so at ease that at times I forgot I was on test! Still, my standard of driving was found to be up to par and I successfully passed the test with 3 (well deserved) minors.

Waiting at the test centre Back at the yard after passing the test as a fully licensed truck driver! Back at the yard after passing the test as a fully licensed truck driver!

After a brief drive back to CTT I went away after a total of 26 hours training (plus 2.5 hours for CPC) with a full Class 1 C+E truck licence. I have to say my experience with CTT was excellent from start to finish. Fred & Natasha in the office are kind & friendly people with a great business, and Dave my instructor was fantastic all the way through. His calm and collected demeanour combined with his friendly and outgoing personality gelled well with me, and I can honestly say I’m not always the easiest person to teach. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, and I’m excited to receive my updated photo card! Next up Category D I think! A big thanks to all at CTT for their help and guidance, and a massive thanks to Ray at the DVSA for such a great road test!

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