Driver Shortages: Is streamlined driver testing safe?

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In tandem with the temporary relaxation of driver’s hours rules the Department for Transport has also now started a consultation (10th August 2021) about streamlining HGV, bus and car driving testing, in order to address the problem described by HM Government as “historic driver shortages”.  It foresees significant and increasing demand in the need for haulage “including the full reopening of the hospitality sector…and…the seasonal increase in demand towards Christmas”.

The pandemic aggravated existing driver shortage problems, of course, but was not its primary cause. There are a number of long-, medium- and short-term causes very well known to the logistics sector.

In short, the main new idea is to remove the need to have a separate driving test to draw trailers, clearly significant with regard to articulated lorries or rigid vehicles pulling drawbar trailers.

The consultation seeks views on the following:

  • removing the ‘staging’ requirements for vocational driving licences. This would permit drivers to take a single test to drive both rigid (Cat C) and articulated lorries (Cat C+E), instead of having to pass a rigid lorry, before a further test on an articulated lorry.  Similarly, drivers who wanted to use buses or coaches (Cat D) to tow trailers (Cat D+E) could achieve this through one test procedure.

 

  • allowing off-road elements of lorry test (reversing manoeuvres and coupling) to be carried out by authorised third parties other than DVSA examiners.

 

  • allowing car drivers (Cat B) to tow trailers (Cat BE) without having to take an additional test (NB car drivers who passed their test before 1/1/97 acquired BE)

The consultation closes on 7th September 2021; its proposals had already been flagged up by the Department for Transport on the 20th July 2020, so come as no surprise. It is fair to say they were not universally welcomed from a safety point of view or as a means of fundamentally addressing driver shortages.

Stakeholders have already raised concerns with regard to the road safety issues in these proposals and, indeed, the consultation repeatedly asks “do you consider there to be any concerns for road safety should the government implement this….”.

What is unclear is the extent to which any risk assessment or analysis has taken place. If it is safe to drive take a test to drive lorries with trailers, under this streamlined route proposed, why has this not been introduced before, rather than as a remedy to address driver shortages? Many drivers who have taken their tests in stages feel aggrieved that they have had to go through the existing procedure, at significant time and cost, only for this possibly to change and allow easier access to C+E licences. They also cite the benefits of gaining good experience under a rigid C licence before progressing to towing.

The cost and complexity of gaining full vocational driving entitlements has been a hurdle that has contributed to driver shortages. If this consultation leads to revised driver testing then, alone, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter the other underlying driver crisis.

The Consultation can be found here


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