The Department of Transport (DfT) has announced that up to 50,000 more HGV driving tests will now be made available per year, through measures that it says will streamline the testing process to help tackle the driver shortage.
In a written statement to Parliament released on Friday, the transport secretary Grant Shapps reported that DfT would proceed with three measures which would help to increase available vocational driving tests, following the results of a recent consultation.
“First, car drivers will no longer need to take another test to tow a trailer or caravan, allowing roughly 30,000 more HGV driving tests to be conducted every year,” he said.
“Second, 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 segment of the test is completed off-road in a manoeuvring area and takes a significant amount of time. DfT says that testing these manoeuvres separately will free up examiner time, allowing them to carry out an additional full test each day.
“And third, we will make it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle, without first having to get a licence for a smaller [rigid] vehicle,” said the transport secretary.
“This would make around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year and mean drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly – without reducing the rigour of the test.”
This will remove the current need for drivers to take two separate tests three weeks apart.
Shapps added that the consultation had attracted thousands of responses over the summer, and that some of the measures would generate additional capacity “very rapidly”.
He emphasised: “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. All car drivers will also still be encouraged to undertake training to tow trailers and caravans.”
The transport secretary also announced that a new cross-government ministerial group had been formed “to monitor labour supply chains, identify pinch points and consider necessary government action”.
Chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the group will meet on a weekly basis and include ministers from departments including DfT, the Department for Education, the Home Office, and the business and environment departments “to make sure all angles are being considered”.
Shapps added: “From Inverness to St Ives, HGV drivers are helping to keep the country running, and have been throughout the pandemic. The shortage of drivers is a global problem, but we’ve been taking action here in the UK to help industry leaders attract drivers and build a more resilient sector.
“We’ve already delivered 50 per cent more tests than were available before the pandemic, but today’s additional measures will deliver up to 50,000 more a year, helping more and more people to kickstart their career as a well-paid HGV driver.”
Logistics UK said the changes to the process showed the government was “now moving at pace” towards a solution to the shortage. It said the one-third increase in capacity for testing was very welcome, but called for the measures to be implemented quickly in order to ameliorate the situation in time for Christmas.
Elizabeth de Jong, policy director at Logistics UK, said: “With access to tests a key barrier to recruits wishing to join the occupation, the government’s measures to speed up the process of qualifying as an HGV driver – including the removal of staged testing and allowing authorised private sector examiners to undertake parts of the examination – will increase testing capacity significantly and have a positive effect in the longer-term.
“However, the impact of today’s measures is unlikely to make a significant difference on the driver shortage if they cannot be implemented in time for the industry’s Christmas peak, with DVSA, DVLA and the wider training industry needing time to apply the changes and adapt their operations.”
She added: “Logistics UK had strongly voiced our concerns about the proposed abolition of the B+E driver category, as this could pose a risk to road safety. However, Logistics UK has been assured that there will be a package of safety mitigation measures introduced; we will be working with government to ensure safety is prioritised.”
A summary of the consultation findings can be found here.