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Learning to drive
Learning to drive
Gears get tricky

Armstrong’s semi-trailer drive

Thursday, November 18, 2004

While Catriona loves her little red Mini Minor, you couldn’t exactly call her a petrol head, but she was more than willing to take the challenge and learn to drive a semi-trailer at Armstrong’s Driver Education in Melbourne.

Armstrong’s has been owned and run by the Nicholson family since 1969 and they offer training for cars, motorcycles and all classifications of trucks and buses.

It can take a whole day just to learn to change gears and turn the vehicle. Instructors have dual controls, so not much can go wrong.

Hopping into a semi-trailer maybe 20 metres long with a cabin several metres from the road, 18 wheels and gears is quite a daunting task, even when it’s not carrying a load. This is why you learn in a rigged vehicle. A fully loaded semi can weigh 42 tonnes.

One of the first things to learn is that you don’t need strong arms and legs to drive a semi — in fact, being gentle on the gears, brake and accelerator means a smoother drive.

Catriona’s lesson was in a Kenworth T604 prime mover. It took the Nicholsons and Kenworth seven months to develop the vehicle for driver training. The front cabin has 10 wheels and the trailer can have 12 or 18 wheels. The 18-speed gear box is extremely advanced and requires much concentration.

The roomy cabin has been transformed into an integrated training centre, with special, coach-style seats equipped with lap-sash seatbelts in the rear for maximum comfort and safety. This allows three trainees to observe while another sits next to the instructor and drives.

Trainees can see DVD instructional presentations from their seats. The system features electronic measuring, which provides up-to-the-minute feedback on the truck and the driver’s performance.

The Caterpillar Electronic Technicial (ET) program measures everything from speed, revs and gear shift points to harsh braking and fuel efficiency and feeds real-time data to the drop-down video screen. It can be seen by the instructor and three passengers and gives good insight into the running of the truck and style of the driver.

The day begins with a meeting and briefing and you receive a certificate when you have completed the course!


Thomastown, a suburb of Melbourne.


Armstrong’s semi trailer driving education starts at $195 per person for two hours. They are open year round and bookings are essential.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

Armstrong’s Driver Education
356 Settlement Road
Thomastown 3074
Ph: (03) 9464 6464 Fax: (03) 9464 6466

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