Special feature: Drivetrain

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Vivienne Haldane

Drivetrain is a commercial transport training specialist offering drivers in-house training so they can attain Class 2, 4, and 5 licences as well as forklift, wheels, tracks and rollers, and dangerous goods licences

Drivetrain offering commercial transport drivers in-house training

Truck drivers are the ultimate multi-taskers and often work under pressure. It’s essential then that they receive the highest standard of training so they can handle whatever challenges are thrown at them.

Thousands of dollars of machinery and equally as much is invested in loads that need to get delivered on time. For those who think truck driving is an easy occupation, they’re way off the mark. A lot is riding on an optimum outcome when a driver gets behind the wheel.

Training facility

Gary May is an NZTA-qualified driver training professional

Gary May is an NZTA-qualified driver training professional. He operates his business Drivetrain from Hastings and has been involved in the transport industry for 35 years as a driver and transport business owner.

Drivetrain operates from Hastings

Drivetrain is a commercial transport training specialist offering drivers in-house training so they can attain Class 2, 4, and 5 licences as well as forklift, wheels, tracks and rollers, and dangerous goods licences.

All this can be done at the company’s premises where they have a range of trucks available for training purposes. They also offer forklift, tracks, and rollers. "Having our own gear makes it so much easier; it’s a one-stop-shop," says Gary.

Gary is passionate, and sometimes outspoken, about the transport industry and helping drivers learn how to be the best driver they can while coaching them through the necessary legal requirements at each level.

Back in the day

Gary laughs about it now, but he recalls how different things were when as a teenager, he quickly got multiple classes of licence. "Dad taught me to drive on an old fire truck. The fire engine was so bad you had to put it in first gear with the engine off and start it with your foot on the clutch and try and take off.

I remember bunny hopping out of the Trentham fire station. Getting a licence back then was sometimes a case of who you knew rather than what you knew. That would never happen now."

From those early days, Gary got stuck into his driving career. He drove for a few different companies on a variety of trucks, including tippers, concrete trucks, earth working machines, and containers. He also used to work for Foodstuffs in Palmerston North, doing grocery runs between Wellington, Silverstream, and Hawke’s Bay.

In 1999, Gary and his wife Katarina went to the UK to live, where he worked for transport companies throughout the country and across into Europe. Back in New Zealand in 2005, Gary did a range of casual work for agencies. He then became an owner-driver for a large transport company.

"We had three trucks, a van, and a Mitsubishi Canter, but we suffered through the Global Financial Crisis in 2007–2008. It was the worst time in the world to start a transport business, but we got through it." In 2012, Gary suffered a setback with a bout of ill-health.

As a result, he decided to change tack, got out of driving, and began working towards becoming a driver trainer. "I did my unit assessments. I had a lot of encouragement from driving instructor Ron Mawson from Napier. He was knowledgeable and became like a mentor to me. He’s one of those guys who are relaxed but still dot their i’s and cross their t’s.

I also did an ‘I’ endorsement course in Auckland and went through all the necessary MITO and NZTA requirements to become an approved provider for NZTA for Heavy Vehicle Licencing."

Climbing the class ladder

Gary says Class 2 is general and attracts a wide range of trainees. "We get lots of 18-year-olds who are just getting their first introduction into heavy transport through to retirees who’ve bought a bus or a mobile home. Class 4 and 5 are generally for more experienced drivers; often employers will send drivers along to those. The remainder is people who do it because it gives them an extra string to their bow."

All classes are held over two days, but Gary books out three days in case trainees need to spend more time driving. "When you get to Class 4 and 5, 90% of the time, you’re dealing with experienced drivers. Apart from knocking off some rough edges, they are already good at what they do.

For the theory section, I have six to eight people do it over a couple of days—the more you have in the class, the better because much of it is discussion. Everyone chips in and learns from each other; everyone has a different experience. Then we spread the practical driving out over a couple of days. We seldom mix classes, especially if they’ve already done the fatigue management section."

Gary takes drivers over five or six different routes. "We’re required to have a defined route we test on depending on the class of licence being tested. I won’t take Class 5 through the middle of town. Instead, we spend a lot of time on the open road where most Class 5s will go.

"For Class 2, we go through town: traffic lights, pedestrian and railways crossing, and into tight areas. I know where all the narrow roads and bumps are. I do some around town for the Class 4s but mostly, it’s courses for horses. I do mix it up though. It keeps me on my toes too."

In the process of training, some discover they are not suited to driving. Gary explains, "You can put a ladder against the side of the building but not everyone is comfortable about climbing to the top.

It’s the same with truck drivers. Someone may be a brilliant Class 2 driver but put them in Class 4, and they can’t handle it. It’s too wide, too long, too heavy, or they don’t understand centres of gravity and balance. Not everyone can do it. If that’s identified early in training, that’s good. There are ways of telling people diplomatically. You’ve got to do it."

Practical know-how

Gary wishes driver training unit standards were less academic and more practical

A bugbear of Gary’s regarding driver training is the unit standards, which he wishes were less academic and more practical. "More focus on bum on seat time, especially between the different licence classes, would be useful. There needs to be a requirement to do X number of hours in a Class 4 truck before you do a Class 5 licence. We get some people attending different courses just so they can get through quicker without ever effectively having driven a truck."

Challenges for new drivers

What’s likely to be the most significant challenge a new driver can expect to experience?
"Changing gears while going down hills and maintaining a reasonable speed is probably the single most difficult thing; even experienced drivers find this hard," says Gary.

"What tends to happen is most drivers overthink the process, but it’s not that complicated. In the new automatic trucks, they have lots of wonderful features, yet we find drivers are burning out brakes by riding them downhill, simply because they don’t trust the technology.

"In an automatic truck with a 50-tonne B Train behind, you set it to cruise control and the retarders will hold you while going downhill at 30km/hour. All you have to do is drive."
Another example is car drivers who enrol in Class 2.

"I advise them to listen to the truck; it will tell you when it wants to change gears. Another good piece of advice is to use the rev-counter instead of the speedometer. That will tell you how fast you’re going, what gear you need to be in, and how things are proceeding."

Fatigue management and other issues

Gary is critical of some of the advice given by MITO Industry Training around fatigue management. "When we do fatigue management as part of the licencing requirement, there’s a section that tells you to play music to sort out a mental problem while at work.

You have real issues if you’re suggesting that’s what people do. In my opinion, stop and rest is the best rule of thumb. If you’ve had an argument and are on the road with 50 tonnes on-board, your mind needs to be in the cab."

He adds, "I don’t think we deal with mental health well enough in New Zealand, especially in the transport and farming industry. These are people who spend a lot of time by themselves and many are struggling with their mental health."


Since the COVID-19 outbreak in New Zealand and the subsequent economic downturn, there are people who’ve had successful careers wanting to gain their HT licences, Gary says.

"I had an engineer enrol. He’d lost his job and was told if he got a truck licence, it will put him ahead in the queue for particular jobs. Others have lost jobs and had to go to Work and Income NZ (WINZ). They’ve never had this sort of thing happen to them, and suddenly they have to do something else. Truck driving is a good option for them.

"Lately, I’ve had several former airline and helicopter pilots come through to do truck licencing. I’ve found them to be very capable. Truck driving is all about processes or cause and effect: this particular action will cause this result, for example. People from this profession readily get that concept, yet others struggle with it."

Mentors and becoming a skilled driver

Gary speaks highly of Peter Sheppard, who is one of New Zealand’s leading fleet safety and driver education specialists. "Peter is an absolute guru in driver training. He’s the trainer’s trainer and does lots of stuff around our graduated licencing system. When I did my ‘I’ endorsement, he was one of the trainers that the AA got in. Peter is brilliant. I could listen to him for ages; he has such a wealth of information."

Kiwi motor racing legend Greg Murphy is another great advocate for driver training, he says Gary reckons truck driving skills begin with learning to drive a car well. "We can’t get our car driver training right. The time-based graduated licencing system was good when it began, but we should have built on it, making it better. Instead, it was put in the too hard basket; it got very political. 

"The system isn’t too badly broken, but we need to add to it and put some definite rules in place. I don’t think you should sit a test unless you have had two or three lessons with a properly registered driving instructor rather than mum or dad. Most of our driver training
is modelled on what we see our parents do."

Driving instructors and those holding a V endorsement (vehicle recovery) are required to do a practical test every five years, says Gary. "However, we have 10-year licencing but the medical certificate for truck driving is only valid for five years, so we need to tie the medical licence in with the expiry date on the licences. It’s simple: no medical, no truck licence."

Advice to young drivers

Gary advises young truck drivers to not rely on having one string in your bow. "It easy to walk in to work and they say, we don’t need you anymore. You need something extra to fall back on, so keep upskilling and learning." On that note, he’s about to go and do a course in Auckland on learning to handle telehandlers and cranes.


For more information, visit drivertrain.co.nz.

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