UK set to shorten Heavy Goods Vehicle driver testing process

Land Transport

Source: Lloyd's Loading List, 2021-09-09

The UK government is expected to announce a further shake-up of the Heavy Goods Vehicle driver testing process this week, to fast-track drivers into the haulage industry amid the chronic shortages which have been causing major supply problems. 

The BBC reports that during meetings between UK government officials, hauliers and suppliers, the “penny finally dropped” that the driver shortage was getting worse not better, with the government stating that meetings with affected groups were ongoing, and any change in policy would be announced in due course. 

Widespread supply chain issues caused by the driver shortage have hit a range of sectors, including food, drink and medicines. And freight industry sources told the BBC

“The government seem to finally understand the scale of the problem.”

The BBC reported that the centrepiece of the proposals could include combining the Class C test used for rigid lorries and Class E for larger articulated lorries into a single test. Currently, there is usually a two- to three-week minimum period between taking the two tests. 

The UK haulage industry has said a perfect storm of a post-Brexit exodus of drivers, an ageing and retiring workforce and COVID-related delays to testing new drivers had brought some supply chains to breaking point. Haulage firms, desperate for drivers to fill lorries left idle and to complete orders left unfulfilled, welcomed the move but warned that it would not be enough to fix the cracks appearing in supply chains.

They reiterated their calls for Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers to be added to the Shortage Occupation List which would allow firms to temporarily bring back some of the estimated 20,000 EU drivers who have left the industry. 

Various freight sources have said a streamlining of the Heavy Goods Vehicle testing system is a sensible move, but it is not enough to fix the problem. 

Paul Jackson of Chiltern Distribution told the BBC: “We don’t put newly qualified drivers straight behind the wheel on their own. We buddy them up with experienced drivers for the first 8-10 weeks and the insurance costs for new drivers are also much higher. 

“We desperately need to put Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers on the list of skilled workers we can bring in from abroad.”

However, UK government ministers look set to continue resisting calls to add Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers to the Shortage Occupation List that would allow firms to temporarily bring back some of the estimated 20,000 EU drivers who have left the industry. 

The government is expected to say that the new Heavy Goods Vehicle testing regime will mean up to 3,000 new drivers can be tested per week. Currently the pass rate is 56% so that would mean an extra 1,600 drivers per week, the BBC reported. 

But Richard Burnett, CEO of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the industry was losing 600 drivers a week from the industry, and with a net shortfall of 90,000 drivers, it would take nearly two years to fill the gap. 

Although the industry was already reporting shortages of about 60,000 drivers before Brexit and the pandemic, even allowing for that, Burnett said there was no way to plug the recent gaps in time for Christmas – when the UK is more reliant on EU food imports. 

In addition, the RHA said the onset of winter weather would throw up obstacles.

“The reality is that an industry already struggling to meet delivery schedules will be brought to its knees at the first outbreak of bad weather conditions,” Burnett warned.

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