Driver Shortage – Relaxed Drivers’ Hours Rules!

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The current and critical HGV driver shortage has triggered a relaxation in the EU Drivers’ Hours Rules for HGV drivers. The Government is seeking to address this problem that it confirms is “causing acute supply chain pressures”.

So, what are the causes of the problem? What are the rule changes? How does a business deal with this, from a health and safety point of view?

What is the driver shortage problem?

There are various reasons for this critical situation. Long-, medium- and short-term solutions are needed. For years there has been an underlying HGV driver shortage. Today, however, some businesses report that it is far worse: they cannot actually operate some lorries because of insufficient drivers. The problem started long before Covid-19 though the suspension of HGV driver tests has contributed to the overall problem. Operators are scrambling to address this, often by increasing hourly pay rates across their business, to keep and attract drivers.

The cocktail of factors that have created this “perfect storm” are these:

  • time and cost to train and retain HGV drivers; issues with apprenticeships
  • an ageing driver profile: drivers are older; few are younger drivers; few younger drivers enter the profession; the workforce is predominantly (older) male with female drivers max. 1-2% of drivers in the UK/Europe
  • unattractive working conditions/pay/hours
  • Covid-19: driving tests delayed/suspended
  • Brexit: dramatic reduction in EU drivers (often from Eastern Europe) not returning to the UK or not seeking work here since 2016 (better pay/conditions elsewhere, perceived Brexit hostile environment, immigration rules); % of non-UK drivers in businesses vary from business to business but were on average 8-10% of workforce and far higher in some companies; (in linked warehousing/distribution the figure is much higher)
  • increasing difficulty in employing non-UK drivers (whether EU nationals or non-EU) due to immigration rules: HGV drivers are not regarded as a skilled sector or commercial driving a shortage sector (Our Employment & Immigration team can help to support your business work through these issues and new rules).

Estimates as to the actual number of additional HGV drivers that are required vary but a shortage of at least 60,000 upwards is an established working figure.

Drivers’ Hours Relaxations

On 7 July 2021, the Government announced temporary measures as one measure to address the supply chain problems caused by the driver shortage. Sector organisations and businesses are highly critical, stating that they do not address the underlying issues – and, what about health and safety requirements? If the Drivers’ Hours Rules are there in law to protect drivers and the public, how can the rules safely be relaxed because there is a driver shortage? How is this circle squared?

The Government response is that businesses should decide on this and deploy the relaxations, as follows: “Driver safety must not be compromised. Drivers should not be expected to drive whilst tired – employees remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users”.

So, employers are allowed to apply the relaxations – but only if this is safe – despite the standard Drivers’ Hours Rules supposedly being regarded as being the safe maximum driving and minimum rest periods.

For those working in this sector, the temporary relaxation on the rules are set out below. In essence, the daily driving limit can increase from nine to 10 hours (and 11 hours once per week); as an alternative, weekly rest patterns can be amended.

Initially, this relaxation only applies until midnight on 8 August 2021 (no doubt this may well be extended in due course) and it is intended to be applied “through agreement between employers and employees and driver representatives”. Drivers have to record why they are deviating from the normal limits.

Further, businesses have to notify the Department for Transport if they deploy the relaxations on a prescribed form, at the start and after the relaxation period.

In summary, the clearest initial indication of many in the road transport goods sector is that this simply does not address the long term, structural problem of driver shortages. (See the reaction of the mainstream sector organisations such as Logistics UK and the RHA.)

Further, there are clear health and safety issues being flagged up about these drivers’ hours relaxations, where drivers may be facing even longer shifts, driving large goods vehicles that require the high skills and levels of concentration. Operators will need to think through whether increased hours sits comfortably with their overarching health and safety objectives and compliance. They will need to assess the risk.

The Department for Transport sets out its changes as follows:

Relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules

The retained EU drivers’ hours rules can be temporarily relaxed as follows.

The replacement of either:

  • the permitted increase to the daily driving limit from nine hours to 10 hours with one of 11 hours (allowed up to twice in one week)


  • the requirement to take a regular weekly rest period of 45 hours in a two-week period with an alternative pattern of weekly rest periods as specified below, and an increase to the fortnightly driving limit from 90 hours to 99 hours. This enables two consecutive reduced weekly rest periods to be taken

The alternative pattern of weekly rest periods for drivers using the relaxation related to weekly rest periods is as follows:

  • the regular weekly rest period in a two-week period can be replaced by two reduced weekly rest periods of at least 24 hours
  • following this, two regular weekly rest periods must be taken. However, any reduction in weekly rest shall be compensated for in the normal way by an equivalent period of rest taken before the end of the third week following the week in question
  • in addition, any rest taken as compensation for a reduced weekly rest period shall be attached to a regular weekly rest period of at least 45 hours (which can be split over two regular weekly rest periods).

This relaxation must not be used in combination with existing rules for international driving, which allow for two consecutive reduced weekly rest breaks in certain circumstances.

It is not recommended this relaxation be used for drivers engaged partly in international journeys.

Our Road Transport law team can help you

Ashtons Legal provides dedicated, niche advice in the area of road transport law, including operator licensing as well as representation in Court and at Traffic Commissioner Public Inquiry hearings.

For more information about this or any other aspects of road transport law please get in touch with us through our online enquiry form or by calling 0330 404 0749. We would be delighted to help you and your business.


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