Possible changes to Driver Licencing– but would they be safe?

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Yet more possible changes to driver licence entitlements are under consideration, following the changes in November 2021, from when, as you may recall, Category B licence holders (cars and light goods vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes) can tow trailers up to 3,500kgs.

Now, the Department for Transport (DfT) is seeking views, before 29 October 2022, on changing the rules to:

  • allow drivers with a car Licence (Category B) to drive a Category C1 vehicle (max 7.5 tonnes goods vehicle)
  • allow drivers with a car Licence (Category B) to drive a Category D1 vehicle (minibus licence).

Would this be safe?

The DfT appears to be alert to safety concerns: “Given there could be road safety impacts, we are seeking balanced views as to whether any changes to the….regime could be changed in a positive way to help industry but without detrimental impact on road safety.”

C1 Goods Vehicle Licence

Drivers who passed their car test up to 1 January 1997 (typically older drivers) were automatically given the right to drive a goods vehicle up to 7.5 tonnes, together with a trailer up to 750kg. This maximum 8.25 tonne entitlement has continued for those drivers ever since.

Drivers who passed their car test from 1st January 1997 had to take a separate test to get their C1 licence.

The Government seeks views about returning to the pre-1 January 1997 position, i.e. allowing all drivers the right to drive vehicles up to 8.25 tonnes (a goods vehicle between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes with a trailer of 750kg maximum authorised mass).

Driver CPC: unless exempt for various reasons, a commercial driver driving in Cat C or Cat D classes (and all sub-categories) has to comply with the requirement to hold a Driver’s Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC). It is not suggested that this legal requirement would be removed. It is a requirement of the Vehicle Drivers (Certificates of Professional Competence) Regulations 2007. So, this would remain.

Road Safety

The reality is that in many consultation procedures, views are sought – but the intended changes happen regardless. Here, however, the Government does, in fact, emphasise that the possible changes are not ‘a done deal’ and that the issue of safety has to be considered, weighed against more drivers being able to drive larger vehicles (assisting with the driver shortage in this area.)

The DfT reports that: “C1 vehicles have a higher rate of accidents than other HGVs per billion vehicle kilometres”.

In fact, in 2019, they accounted for 23% of accidents involving HGVs over 3.5 tonnes, at the same time representing 7% of the total distance travelled for goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes.

C1 accidents constituted 6% of all goods vehicle accidents.

Interestingly, the number of C1 vehicles involved in accidents where a car or van was towing was more than double that of cars or vans under 3.5 tonnes.

What might be the advantages or disadvantages of removing the requirement for a C1 Test?

  • Drivers could automatically drive goods vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes (plus small trailer) from ‘day one’ i.e. with little or no prior experience. The safety impact is unknown but possibly very concerning. 30% of candidates fail their Cat C1 test.
  • Drivers involved in the commercial carriage of goods would still have to carry out DCPC – of course, there are many exemptions. This additional training might, in some ways, assist in mitigating safety fears, though it is not ongoing practical training.
  • Making the obtaining of a C1 entitlement easier may meet an increasing need for current C1 Licence needs. Will this lead to a significant uptake in driving in C1 class?
  • Operators may have very significant concerns when assessing the risk of permitting inexperienced drivers to drive up to 8.25 tonnes vehicle/trailer combinations. They may wish to engage in in-house training with consequential cost.
  • Motor insurance: presumably, there would be significantly higher premiums, bearing in mind the value of vehicles and driver experience, and it is already the case that some insurers have minimum age and driving experience requirements.

D1 minibus entitlement

The DfT also seeks to address a shortage of bus and coach drivers, including home-to-school transport providers using minibuses.

The issues and overall picture mirror the C1 situation.

Similar to C1, the D1 entitlement was automatically granted to a driver if they passed their car Test (Category B) before 1 January 1997. It appears on the Licence as Code D1(101), meaning a minibus can be driven – but not for hire or reward. Automatic grant of this finished on 1 January 1997.

However, car licence holders can, in certain circumstances, drive a minibus, although they have not passed a D1 Driving Test: their licence must have been held for a minimum of two years; minibus maximum weight must not exceed 3.5 tonnes; the maximum is 16 passenger seats; no towing of a trailer; no driver payment; minibus can only be driven for a non-commercial body.

As with C1 above, the DfT notes that drivers could use D1 minibuses with little or no experience.

Like C1 Tests, about 30% of drivers fail the D1 Test. So, the DfT understands that: “There is a risk that removal of the test requirements may increase the accident rates”.


Finally, views are sought by the DfT on further and more specific areas that would simplify and modernise licensing:

  • Creation of a formalised instructor programme or training, how this could be made compulsory, to create a formal Register of Instructors and to publish pass rates for Instructors
  • Permitting a person who has held an HGV (Category C) Licence for two years to drive PCVs for maintenance and repair purposes
  • Reintroduction of the automatic granting of D1(E) entitlement when Category C1, C1(E) and D1 entitlements have been granted, to align with the equivalent existing granting of Category D when category C, C(E) and D entitlements have been granted, without having to pass a further specific Category D1 Tests
  • Revoking all Category L Licences and Category L entitlements, as this is no longer an extant category and ensures that those driving electric vehicles follow the relevant test and training procedure for cars and larger vehicles
  • Aligning Category F (agriculture and forestry tractors) and Category H (tracked vehicles) with haulage tractors require a Category C Licence, rather than a Category F Licence, for their use and to investigate whether some agricultural tractor tests need to be brought into line with modern practices.

Contact our road transport solicitors today

If you require any advice with regard to Goods and Passenger Operator Licencing, including advice concerning DVSA Investigations, correspondence with the Office of The Traffic Commissioner or Traffic Commissioner Preliminary Hearing/Public Inquiry work, then please contact us using our online enquiry form or by calling 0330 404 7949.


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