I have written previously on the issue of the shortage of HGV drivers. This is a widespread problem, affecting not just the UK but countries around the world and is caused by many factors, particularly the impact of COVID-19 on the supply chain. Estimates reported by Transport Insight in 2020, suggested that overall the European road freight industry had a driver shortage of around 400,000 drivers. The most heavily impacted European countries are Poland, the UK and Germany. Brexit has played a part in the UK but it is only a part. It also saw many European workers leave over the course of the pandemic, as fears over lockdowns grew. I welcome the measures that the Government is now taking to tackle this worldwide shortage.
As a result of the pandemic driver tests were suspended for a large part of last year. Measures have been announced to significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests each year by up to 50,000 by streamlining the process. The HGV driving tests will be overhauled, meaning drivers will only need to take 1 test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than having to take 2 separate tests (spaced 3 weeks apart). This will make around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year and mean drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly. Tests will also be made shorter by removing the ‘reversing exercise’ element – and for vehicles with trailers, the ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercise – and having it tested separately by a third party. This part of the test is carried out off the road on a manoeuvring area and takes a significant amount of time. Testing such manoeuvres separately will free up examiner time, meaning they can carry out another full test every day.
Car drivers licenced after January 1997 will no longer need to take another test to tow a trailer or caravan. This is in line with drivers licenced before then and will allow around 30,000 more HGV driving tests to be conducted every year. The new rules are set out on the GOV.UK website. However all car drivers will also still be encouraged to undertake training to tow trailers and caravans.
These new measures follow a public consultation over the summer, which saw thousands of respondents, including industry leaders, support the move as a positive step to help the sector tackle the lorry driver shortage currently affecting countries around the world. Some of these changes will generate additional capacity for HGV tests very rapidly, and we will shortly lay the appropriate licensing regulations before the House.
These changes will not change the standard of driving required to drive an HGV, with road safety continuing to be of paramount importance. Any driver who does not demonstrate utmost competence will not be granted a licence.
By way of information, the latest industry estimates suggest that the national driver shortages are as follows:
- Poland - 124,000
- UK - 60,000-70,000
- Germany - 45,000 and 60,000
- France - 43,000 drivers
- Spain - 5,340 in 2020.
- Italy - 15,000
- Scandinavia 10,500
(Source Transport Insight)