Monday 3 August 2020

Truck industry faces major driving test backlog

Image DVSA Crown copyright

The details of this article were correct as of 4 July; please check with relevant agencies and trade associations for more recent updates.

The sector skills council Skills for Logistics (SfL) has warned that the industry faces a significant backlog of truck driving tests created by the suspension of testing during the coronavirus crisis.

As our July/August print edition went to press, in England, lorry, bus and coach driving tests were set to resume from 13 July for candidates who lost a test due to the shutdown, and theory tests were recommencing as of 4 July with new social distancing and safety measures in place..

As of publication, tests continued to be suspended in Scotland and Wales except for emergency tests available for critical workers; while in Northern Ireland, driving tests for buses, as well as Module 4 Driver CPC tests for buses and lorries, were set to resume from 6 July, while lorry driving tests remained suspended.

Apart from emergency tests, no driving tests were undertaken during the shutdown at all, as the authorities sought to protect examiners and candidates against infection. But the consequences for training schools and the wider industry were severe.

SfL calculates that an average of 1,500 LGV tests per week were being undertaken prior to the shutdown on 19 March, with an average pass rate of 60 per cent.

Every lost week of testing therefore potentially denied the industry of 900 new entrants, so over the sixteen weeks that will have passed by the time the programme resumes, this could amount to as many as 14,400 – and with a possible 24,000 test backlog.

SfL surveyed 61 leading LGV training providers, who between them were presenting 1,036 candidates for test each week prior to shutdown. In total, they used 540 driving instructors, and operated 580 training vehicles.

Because of the crisis, they had all ceased training activities. Ninety-six per cent of their instructors had been furloughed and the remainder made redundant.

Speaking on behalf of the vocational training network, Skills for Logistics said it was able and willing to work with the Department for Transport and DVSA to assist in devising a workable and proportionate plan for a resumption of training and testing to tackle the backlog.

The offer of support included use of providers’ LGV instructors to become DVSA delegated examiners. This would provide the much-needed additional testing capacity and introduce greater resilience into the service, SfL said. It said it could also assist with the use of training provider centres to conduct Module 1 and 2 tests under invigilation; drafting and approval of Safe Operating Procedures; further liaison and collaboration with the sector; and raising the standards of quality assurance.

DVSA told Transport Operator: “This has been a challenging time for all, and we have been working with the industry on our plans to reopen our trainer booker service for vocational tests in England from 6 July. “We will reopen this service in phases to make sure training providers are given fair and equal access to book tests, reduce their financial burden and avoid putting strain on the service.

“We will make as many appointments available as we can whilst making sure we protect our staff and customers from coronavirus.”

It would appear from DVSA’s reply that testing will not initially be carried out in the volumes it was prior to the shutdown.

On announcing the resumption of driver testing, the transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Driving lessons and tests are vital in helping people get to work and visit loved ones, and provide the skills for a lifetime of safe driving. As the country recovers from Covid-19 we can now open up our services to help get the country moving again and I am very pleased to announce the restart of driving tests and lessons in a Covid-secure way.”

Gareth Llewellyn, chief executive of DVSA, added: “It has been vital that lessons and tests only resume when safe to do so and in line with the government’s advice. “We know this has been a tough time for the whole country including learners and driving instructors…

“Tests for critical workers have continued during the lockdown and I would like to thank all those instructors and examiners who have continued to work to help deliver tests for those who have done so much to help us during this terrible pandemic.”

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