If you believe you possess the capabilities of Lewis Hamilton or dream of hosting Top Gear, does this automatically qualify you as a competent HGV driver? While it is crucial to appreciate the thrill of driving and the freedom of the open road, operating a lorry is fundamentally distinct from driving a car. That is the reason why obtaining additional driving licences is necessary to progress to operating medium or heavy goods vehicles. Here are a few distinctions between operating a lorry and driving a car:
1. Lane positioning
Having spatial awareness is crucial when operating any type of vehicle, but it becomes even more important when driving a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) due to its larger size and weight. Given that an average car is approximately 4 metres long and weighs under 2 tonnes, it’s worth noting that an HGV can measure up to 16.5 metres in length, which is four times longer than a car, and a drawbar combination can reach up to 18.75 metres in length. Additionally, HGVs are wider, adding to the need for heightened road positioning awareness. Consequently, the qualifications required for professional HGV driving encompass both practical and theoretical components. Once you become accustomed to the vehicle’s dimensions, the driving itself is relatively straightforward, although it’s important to remain vigilant of passing cars.
2. Braking distance
As well as the greater dimensions of a lorry, there’s also a huge disparity in weight. The average car weighs around 4,000 pounds or just under 2 tonnes. However, HGVs can weigh up to 44 tonnes. This means they will take longer to brake, so you need to plan manoeuvres earlier than other drivers. Even with the assistance of air brakes, the momentum of an HGV means it will have a longer braking distance than a car that’s travelling at the same speed. It can also mean that driving on rough terrain is more tricky in an HGV, and requires far more concentration. Again, once you get the feel for this, it’s not too daunting. But it’s another way in which driving a lorry is different to driving a car.
3. Turning right
Cars may have a better grip on the road, but due to their length, lorries require a larger turning radius. In the United Kingdom, this means that when making a right turn, a lorry needs to make a significantly wider turn compared to cars, whether at a junction or when entering a roundabout. In fact, it is common to spot warning signs on the back of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), cautioning other drivers to provide ample space and time for their turns and to avoid pulling up alongside them while they are manoeuvring.
4. Gear changes
While the majority of contemporary trucks utilise automatic transmissions, there are still a few older models that require manual shifting. In contrast to cars, which typically have five or six forward gears along with reverse, trucks can feature up to 18 forward gears and 4 reverse gears. The application and utilisation of these gears differ significantly. Due to the substantial weight of the vehicle, lower gears are necessary to generate maximum torque for smooth acceleration. However, despite possessing a higher gear ratio, the speed difference between gears is relatively small. In fact, it can be as low as 3-5 mph, unlike cars where first gear can be used up to 20 mph, and, on level roads, sixth gear can be engaged for speeds exceeding 40 mph.
In an HGV, the method of using gears is distinct from that of a car, and we have not even discussed double de-clutching yet! Double de-clutching refers to the process of pressing the clutch twice while changing gears – once to shift to neutral and another time to engage a new gear. This technique is employed in trucks and vehicles with unsynchronised gearboxes, which is quite dissimilar to your typical car gearbox. Additionally, it is worth noting that in manual transmission lorries, the gears play a crucial role in fuel consumption management.
5. Time to accelerate
We have previously discussed the importance of torque and the number of gears in relation to moving a vehicle. This is particularly relevant when considering the weight of a lorry. The weight contributes to longer stopping distances and also affects the time it takes for an HGV to accelerate from a junction compared to a car. As an experienced HGV driver, you are well aware of this. It implies that you must patiently wait for a larger gap in traffic to safely merge onto a road or navigate a roundabout. While car drivers can manoeuvre through smaller gaps easily, As an HGV driver, you must consider the additional time required to accelerate.
6. Road Awareness
In addition to positioning themselves correctly on the road, truck drivers must anticipate and plan their manoeuvres well in advance compared to car drivers. Although most accidents involving a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) are caused by car drivers, it is crucial for HGV drivers to remain highly vigilant of the behaviour of other drivers around them. Last-minute lane changes, abrupt braking, and hazardous overtaking manoeuvres are just a few examples of driving behaviours that truck drivers must be attentive to.
7. Blind spots
If you have ever come across a sign on a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) stating ‘If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you’, it is because lorries have larger and more numerous blind spots compared to cars. While car drivers can rely on mirrors and shoulder checks to ensure a clear lane, lorry drivers have limited visibility around their vehicles. Blind spots exist in the front, sides, and rear of a lorry. This becomes especially challenging when making left turns, as blind spots occur diagonally in the front and along the sides. Although it may seem intimidating, learning to navigate these blind spots is part of the driver training process.
Lorry drivers lack a rearview mirror, meaning their reliance on side mirrors during reverse manoeuvres is crucial. Despite limited visibility, skilled lorry drivers can execute precise reversing manoeuvres. While reversing alarms can be beneficial, they are not always present in older lorry models. In contrast, cars are equipped with a rearview mirror, allowing drivers without a camera to conveniently check their positioning by turning in their seats.
9. Gaining your licence
To obtain a Category B car driving licence, it is necessary to pass both a theory and practical test. The minimum age requirement is 17 years old, and a provisional licence is required before starting the learning process. However, there is no set number of mandatory training hours. On the other hand, if you wish to pursue a career in driving lorries, you must successfully complete the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) for the specific category of vehicle you intend to drive. This certification consists of four components, including two theory tests, two practical tests, and a designated number of training hours.
These are the various licence categories for medium-sized lorries and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) in the United Kingdom.
Category C1 permits individuals to operate light commercial vehicles within the weight range of 3,500kg to 7,500kg, accompanied by a trailer weighing up to 750kg.
The Category C1+E entitlement is an additional privilege that is granted alongside your C1 licence. This entitles you to operate C1 vehicles while towing a trailer that weighs over 750kg, as long as the total combined weight of the vehicle and trailer does not exceed 12,000kg.
The Category C licence, also known as Class 2, enables you to operate rigid body vehicles weighing over 3,500 kg but less than 32 tonnes, along with trailers weighing up to 750 kg MAM.
Category C+E, also known as Class 1, grants you the authority to operate articulated and drawbar vehicles. These vehicles can exceed 3,500 kg and include a detachable trailer weighing over 750 kg. The maximum load you can transport is 44 tonnes.
Licensing requirements differ when it comes to driving a car versus driving a lorry. One notable distinction is that a car driving licence is valid for life, whereas lorry drivers must undergo periodic training to maintain the validity of their Driver CPC card. This training, referred to as “Periodic CPC training,” involves completing 35 hours of training every 5 years.
So as you can see, there’s a lot more to think about when driving a lorry, compared with driving a car. However, the comprehensive driver training you’ll receive while gaining your driving licence will ensure you’re ready to hit the road with confidence and the right driving skills. Being an HGV or lorry driver is an excellent career choice, with great job security and – given the current driver shortages – guaranteed employment. So if you’re thinking of upgrading your car driving licence for a lorry licence, there’s never been a better time to learn.