The Evolution of DTAL

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As one of the providers for the DTAL Program (Registered No.146) for both practical and theory provision, I have a deep interest in how effective the program is.
Please note that the content of this page is my personal viewpoint on the implementation and effectiveness of the program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of others.
The Northern Territory's DTAL Program is unique, no other Australian State or Territory (probably no other western country) has an equivalent where all-encompassing training from Learners licence to Provisional licence for young people is subsidised to such a high degree.
The NT's MACA (Motor Accident Compensation Act) through the TIO (Territory Insurance Office) is the funding source - the idea is to spend money on quality driver training, and reap the benefits of reduced crash rates and less call on the fund.

On 1st July 2009 administration of the program was transferred from the Department of Education and Training (DET) to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) Road User Division through the Motor Vehicle Registry (MVR).

The DTAL program currently uses a Log Book Competency Based Training & Assessing system which is intended to be all-encompassing and produce a higher standard of driver than one who simply passes the NT's simplistic and robotic VORT (Vehicle On Road Test).
Log book systems inherently have the trainers provide all aspects of practical teaching, signing off the competencies as each standard is attained, and also signing off the final check drive to facilitate issue of the appropriate certificate or licence by the relevant authority.

However after 2½ years of auditing it became obvious that a large portion NT instructors were incapable of assessing a student correctly.
Many were also unethical, poorly trained for the task (if trained at all), delivered low standard training, and signed off students before they were competent.
Some even cashed in unused DTAL lesson vouchers for work never done, easy to do if you get the student to sign all vouchers during the first lesson then retain the them in your keeping - also ensures your student sticks with you and don't go to another instructor!!
(The auditing process concentrated only on instructors' assessment skills, not teaching).

DTAL = Driver Training And Licensing Program
DEET = Department of Employment, Education and Training, which has since become...
DET = Department of Education and Training
DIPE = Department of Panning Infrastructure and Environment, which has since become...
DPI = Department of Planning and Infrastructure (the registration and licensing authority)
MVR = Motor Vehicle Registry (part of DPI Road User Division)
ADI = Authorised Driving Instructor (authorised to train and assess under the DTAL program - now redundant)
SDT = Specialist Driver Trainer (the newer version of an ADI. Was never implemented)
RDI = Registered DTAL Instructor - registered to provide in-car and/or classroom training under the DTAL program

1.  The Early Years

The program commenced in 1984, and was administered by a DTAL Board of Governance with representatives from DIPE (now DPI), Road Safety Council, Police, Territory Insurance Office, Automotive Training Advisory Council (NT), and the NT Automobile Association.
A full-time DTAL Program Manager handled the administrative tasks and reported to the Board.
Funding was by the Motor Accident Compensation Act (MACA) through the Territory Insurance Office (TIO).
There was only one theory module.
Practical training was done using a "tick card" system to mark off completed skills and when ready, candidates were tested by a Licence Testing Officer (LTOs) at Motor Vehicle Registry offices, the same avenue for licence testing available to the public.
Presentation of the tick-card identified the candidate as a DTAL student and enabled early age licensing (16 yrs instead of 16½ yrs) and the fee for issuing the provisional licence to be waived.

2.  CBT&A and the Log Book system - a big step forward

In 2001 an in-car training/assessing system based on the Australian Capital Territory's log book system was trialled.
A second theory module based on driver attitudes and the practicalities of car ownership & driving was introduced, this module being taken after the student achieved a certain stage of the training.
Practical training was provided by Authorised Driving Instructors (ADIs) who were required to have Certificate III (driver instruction) and operate under two Codes of Practice (from the DTAL Board and the licensing authority).
The system is based on CBT&A (not pure CBT&A) - the 22 competencies range from knowledge of controls, cab drill, start-up, etc through to merging and overtaking, and includes a mandatory night drive.
A notable omission is "emergency stopping" which was included in old tick-card
The final competency is The System of Car Control.
The three assessment drives (two progress reviews and a final check drive) were conducted by the ADI. Auditors from the MVR and monitors appointed by the DTAL Board could observe assessment & training operations at any time.
The number of vouchers issued to each DTAL student was increased from 8 to 12.
On successful completion of the log book, ADIs issued a certificate enabling the issue, at the Registrar's discretion, of an NT provisional licence.
ADIs commenced at an interim level, the idea being that they would be promoted to full ADI status after achieving a certain level of successful audits.
(ADIs expected this to happen after 6 months, but unfortunately no interim ADI was promoted, not even those who achieved 2½ years of 100%, or nearly 100%, successful audits).


3.  Another step ... forward?

In March 2004, ADIs were waiting for the newest Code of Practice issued by DIPE to be implemented - supposedly this would herald long awaited modifications to the log book system, promotion from interim status for the performers and a change of name from Authorised Driving Instructor (ADI) to Specialist Driver Trainer (SDT).
This was not to be. Not all ADIs were training or assessing to required standards. The 30% unsuccessful audit rate was showing no signs of improvement and at least 50% of students entering the program dropped out and obtained their licence through the public-access test (VORT).
An unacceptably high number of these students were failing their first attempt at VORT as well.
ADIs had their authority to issue certificates for provisional licences revoked, all DTAL students had to undergo the VORT test at an MVR.
Unfortunately these changes were badly advised and introduced - many ADIs assumed the changes related only to the "new system" which was funded by a different process, and continued to produce certificates which were not honoured by the MVR.
The abruptness of the changes was in stark contrast to the agonising slowness of progress (consultation, review & changes) over the past years.
Dr Chris Burns Minister of Infrastructure Planning and Environment responded to the outcry from unhappy students, parents and instructors. Students on the "original" log book program could still be assessed by their authorised instructor, although the changes for students on the new system remain.
A meeting between officials and training providers was held on 10 May 2004 (see the News & Views article "Not All Questions Answered").
The government outlined the direction of DTAL, and concerns from driver trainers were listened to. The program will undergo a review and input is encouraged from driver trainers, although any changes would not be implemented until January 2005.


4.  Four steps backward.

At this point in time the original purpose of the CBT&A log book system had been somewhat eroded.
  1. Inferior assessment - The assessment process of Competency Based Training & Assessment is significantly superior to VORT.
    (Admittedly, CBT&A must be done correctly and some ADIs have proven to be unwilling and/or incapable of doing that, but the authorities had enough time to produce and enforce effective codes of practice with real "teeth". This hasn't been done).

  2. No control - There have always been concerns about the behaviour of some of the driver trainers, behaviour which is detrimental to road safety and is bringing discredit to their colleagues in the driver training industry (see the News & Reviews article "Is DTAL Working?").
    As there will be no auditing by the MVR of driver trainers under the new style program, and DEET have not yet indicated if they will actively perform a similar function, the existing (somewhat ineffectual) control over "rogue" instructors has been completely removed.
    How will DEET be sure that taxpayer money is not being wasted by instructors who will bypass components of the log book and simply train their students to pass a VORT as in the old days?
    At least the DTAL program is under review (see note 5. below) and there are sure to be major improvements in 2005.
    Already, communications from the DTAL side (if not from the MVR) side has improved considerably since DEET took over the governance of the program.

  3. Inefficiency - Under the log book system, there are three assessments: two progress reviews (PR1, PR2) and the Final Check Drive (FCD).
    This has been regarded by many as overkill, especially as the FCD is usually conducted immediately after the PR2.
    We are told that the main reason for having the three assessments is for opportunities for the instructor to be audited.
    Although this auditing will no longer be done under the new system, the 3 log book assessments are to remain and the learner still has to undergo the VORT at the end of it all.
    Learners must complete the log book system to be eligible for the benefits - early age provisional licensing (16 yrs instead of 16½ yrs) and waiving the cost of booking a VORT and of issuing the provisional license.
    As well as there being no guarantee that learners will have actually completed the log book in its entirety, we have the weirdly inefficient situation where three assessments (PR2, FCD, VORT) are conducted in a row.

  4. Loss of Faith - ADIs operating the log book system endured 2½ years of nightmare scenarios while the program struggled to find its feet.
    Many of them strove hard to reach and maintain high standards, and were looking forward to a well-earned promotion from interim status.
    The new Codes of Practice and the suggested changes to the log book were finally(!) about to be implemented, ADIs were even asked to submit design ideas for the new Specialist Driver Trainer ID card.
    This was suddenly and rudely collapsed by the authorities, and was very poorly handled.
    Many instructors feel like they have been kicked in the teeth, that all their years of hard work have been in vain.
    No reason has been given why the successfully performing ADIs were never promoted and why they must share, with the non-performers, the stigma of failure.
    The situation is not helped by the poor standards (inconsistency, unfair testing, mis-treatment of candidates) of testing conducted by the current Licence Testing Officers (LTOs) who do not seem to have the depth of knowledge and experience that their earlier counterparts had.

5.  July 2004 - DTAL under review

In July / August 2004, stakeholders were afforded an opportunity to provide input to the DTAL review process at forums held in Alice Springs, Katherine, and Darwin. It is up to Cabinet to decide DTAL's future - we will have to wait and see.


6.  January 2005 and moving on...

The DTAL program is continuing under the new DTAL Manager (Nicola Jones) with a modified code of practice (the Conditions of Registration for DTAL Instructors).
The changes that have been introduced to the program are much needed. They include:
  • The log book competencies are basically similar but the first progress review (PR1) has been moved up the list to properly reflect what it was originally intended to do i.e. assess the basic skills in light traffic situations before moving on to the more challenging competencies.
    The Final Check Drive (FCD) has been dropped, the 2nd Progress Review (PR2) now being the final assessment prior to attempting the Vehicle On Road Test (VORT) at an MVR office.

  • Booking the practical test (VORT). There had been a problems with this due to several factors - the long waiting list for VORT at MVRs, and the habit of some instructors of booking too early (requiring a late cancellation or worse, simply "pushing" the student hard to do the test anyway) or, bulk booking their students at once and putting the MVRs strained booking system under further stress.
    Now on successful completion of the Theory 2 module part-way through the practical training, a signed DTAL Certificate of Competency DTAL Theory is issued to the student.
    This certificate is needed before the student can book a VORT under the log book system, and should help prevent the early-booking practice.
    The long waiting list for VORT is a problem for the MVR.

  • Conditions of Registration for DTAL Instructors. The latest Conditions as well as heralding the above changes, have improvements in other areas.
    One is communication which has correctly been identified as a major problem previously, and the Conditions now specify that certain communications must be in writing.
    There has already been a very considerable improvement in communications from DEET and instructors are reminded that communication is a two-way process.
    The Conditions provide for the appointment of monitors to observe and report on DTAL practical & theory sessions - it is hoped that this will be implemented with resolve.

  • Certificate IV in Driving Instruction is a requirement for Registered DTAL Instructors as of 1 January 2005.
    Most have it and those who have not yet bothered (or have been able) to achieve it have until mid-year otherwise they will not be registered.

On another positive note, DPI now have some Licensing Testing Officers (LTOs) who are demonstrating knowledge, skills & behaviour markedly superior to those of their recent predecessors - more like the way LTOs were in "the good old days".
Driving instructors are still of the opinion that certain LTOs should be doing a different job however.


7.  2008 - marking time...

Well here we are, it's September 2008 at the time of writing. So just how is the DTAL program going?
Frankly I'm very reluctant to "bite the bullet" and let fly with my true feelings.

Why? Because to a great extent I depend on DTAL Program clients for my daily bread, it's not easy living in the NT with its high rents & living costs if you have a low security, low income job with very high operating expenses. If I vented my deepest thoughts I would find this job very heavy going indeed!
And then I would not be in an advantageous position to achieve my goal of providing quality training & education towards the safety of NT novice drivers in the NT.

The program now (September 2008).
There have been a few DTAL Program Managers, none of whom seemed to have had permanency and also possessed relevant qualifications in Education, or Driver Training, or both.
At the time of writing the current DTAL Manager has just quit her post and we are awaiting news on who the manager will be.
The outgoing manager is a qualified auditor and was very diligent in her duties - it was welcome to see such attention in reducing or eliminating the fraudulent usage of subsidised vouchers by certain registered DTAL instructors.

However she has no driver training or educational qualifications that we are aware of.
No doubt she has a current NT's drivers licence (we were never told!) and this seems to be ALL that our current government regards as necessary for position (NOT a criticism of the outgoing manager, but of the NT government and its departments!).

An example: the log book requires at least one "night drive", as do log book systems in other states & territories (in S.A. for example, a total of 10 hours of night driving experience must be logged.
In the NT, the log book's one mandatory night drive must be with a Registered DTAL Instructor).

A few months back during a DTAL workshop, a colleague & myself brought up the subject of night driving; we pointed out that very few instructors were actually conducting it.
This was gleaned from two sources - students from other instructors who averred that they did their "night drive" in daytime and their RDI entered a false time into their log book, and that our driving school NEVER encounter other instructors on the road at night (apart from "L To P Driving School", now moved to Tasmania).
The DTAL Manager's response was final: she pointed to a sample voucher's "Lesson Date & Time" field and said "That is evidence!".
Evidence???!!!
That is how RDIs are getting away with manslaughter - just write a bogus lesson time (e.g. 7:00pm instead of, say, 2:00pm) on a voucher and it is now irrefutable evidence that the night drive was conducted at night!
Fatuous and naive! (and of course the DTAL student is not going to complain)

Worse - during this discussion the DTAL Manager suddenly said: "anyway there is nothing to teach during a night drive.")
Another totally outrageous statement offensive to qualified instructors, but indicative of the sad state the DTAL program is in.

The Log Book
The whole idea of bringing in a log book is to provide training & education that is all-encompassing and of a higher standard than the training required to pass our simple robotic public driving test (VORT - vehicle On Road Test).
As an example, the DTAL Log Book requires students to be competent at multi-point turns (3-point turns) - all the "non-Connies Driving School" students I've inherited from other instructors have never actually done one, but they are signed off as being competent whereas their RDI has not got them to do one at all. Why? This and some other DTAL Log Book competencies are NOT tested on our VORT.
So naturally many RDIs use the student's 12 vouchers to get them ready for their test, not to train up to a high standard.
Also VERY popular with students who in most cases are not really interested in knowing how to drive safely & efficiently, they just want their licence (freedom).

Another example: our public test requires the candidate to demonstrate a safe & legal U-turn.
This is a "gimme" for many candidates because their instructor has said "on your test you will be asked to do a U-turn here and here and here etc".
Nothing about how to select a safe & legal location, just do it "here" - and nothing about the 7 or 8 other types of possible U-Turns over & above the two types required for VORT.


8.  May 2009 - reviewed again.

In May 2009 it was announced that DTAL would be reviewed and replaced by a program to be called "DriveSafe NT".
NT instructors were invited to seminars to put forward their views for the NT Driver Training Review, and a steering committee formed.
See News & Views page 4 for details, and my submission to the review is also available for reading.


9.  DTAL's downward slide.

September 2009 - the DTAL Program is still operating and all is well - or so it seems on the surface!
DTAL "Theory 1" classes are being held, students are getting their NT Learners licence, students are taking advantage of subsided training, log books are being signed off, young people are going for their NT Vehicle On Road test (VORT).

However the program is not being operating the way is was intended at its conception, and many would argue that the desired outcomes of the program are not being met.
First of all it is necessary to explain that the current P's test (VORT) is not a high standard test, certainly not as high as the standards supposed to be set by DTAL's log book system. That is one of the reasons the log book system was introduced - to ensure a high standard of training and assessment.

It seems that few instructors are taking the log book system seriously any more, they are happy to pander to their student's desire to simply get a provisional licence in the shortest and cheapest way possible, regardless of how well or safely they can drive at the end of the day. After all, a popular instructor can guarantee a reasonably consistent income.
DTAL students are supposed to only attempt their test when all log book competencies have been signed off; but a very high percent simply opt out when they have been on their learners licence for the minimum 6 months, then book a test.

Having a competency signed off is no guarantee that it has even been attempted, let alone achieved.
Some log book competencies are not tested by VORT, others are tested in a very simplistic fashion.
Take U-Turns as an example - everyone "knows" the places where they could be asked to do a U-turn during a VORT, many instructors simply teach their students to do test U-turns "here" without any thought to discussion on how to select safe legal U-turn locations.
Some examiners have demonstrated deficiency in their underpinning knowledge as well, for example directing a test candidate to perform a U-turn in an unsafe location, after accidentally getting off the set test route.

Very few students are bothering to attend the DTAL "Theory 2" to round off their knowledge (Darwin High School had to cancel its September '09 Theory 2 class do to lack of numbers).

In summary, DTAL has deteriorated into a system for young people to get their NT Provisional Licence as quickly as possible, with just enough skill required to pass the test, and at NT taxpayers expense!


10.  New program announced: "DriveSafe NT"

At the time of writing (August 2009) the process of developing the new program is underway - a steering committee has been formed.
There is some way to go yet, the new program probably won't roll out until mid 2010 or even later, and there are not yet any details ready to be made public.


11.  January 2012 - DriveSafe NT trial commences (the end of DTAL!)

I ran my last DTAL Theory class in December 2011 at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, the last Theory 1 in the Top End at least (I don't think there were any later classes in Alice Springs).
DSNT (DriveSafe NT) has some things in common with the old DTAL program but there is a lot that is new (and fresh).


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