Safety fears as lorry driver tests are relaxed to tackle shortage

Safety fears as lorry driver tests are relaxed to tackle shortage
Campaigners condemn ‘watering down’ of the rules – also hailed as benefit from ‘increased sovereignty’ after Brexit

Tests for lorry and van drivers on UK roads are being relaxed to help tackle a huge shortage, triggering protests that safety will be put at risk.

Road safety campaigners and Labour have both raised the alarm over the move, sparked by fears of gaps on supermarket shelves because deliveries cannot be made on time.

It follows the sudden decision to allow longer journeys before lorry drivers must take a rest – and is also being hailed as benefit from “increased sovereignty” after Brexit.

But Labour said it is “deeply concerned” by the plans, while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) condemned any “watering down” of the rules.

The Best for Britain campaign group accused the government of “sticking plaster solutions which could make roads more dangerous for all drivers”.

Ministers are insisting that road safety remains “of paramount importance” and that “all HGV drivers will continue to undergo rigorous testing”.

The controversy has blown up after Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, issued an action plan to boost the number of drivers passing tests above the current level of 1,500 a week.

It will strip the examination of “off-road manoeuvres” out of the official test to “increase overall testing capacity”.

Permission to drive an articulated lorry would be granted “without also having to pass a rigid lorry practical test”, under the proposals to go out to consultation.

And people would no longer have to pass additional tests before being allowed to attach a van or a trailer to the back of their car.

There is a shortfall of at least 60,000 HGV drivers, because of “a perfect storm” of EU drivers shunning the UK and tests cancelled because of the Covid pandemic.

A plea to relax post-Brexit immigration rules to help tackle the shortage, by adding HGV drivers to the shortage occupation list, has been rejected in favour of loosening the rules.

Becky Needham, Rospa’s road safety officer, acknowledged the driver shortage, but said: “We do not see that removing elements of the current test is the answer.

“Our view is that the test, as it stands, protects the drivers themselves, other road users and the public and we would not want to have their safety compromised in any way by this proposal.”

Labour has written a letter to the government, penned by 5 shadow ministers including transport spokesman Jim McMahon, raising multiple concerns.

The party says the extension of HGV driving hours “was met with disbelief” and would “merely increase the workload of exhausted drivers”.

“We note that the government is consulting on changes to HGV tests and considering regulatory changes to “speed up recruitment”, including removing off-road manoeuvres and rigid lorry practical tests,” the letter says.

“Given the government’s lax approach to driver safety demonstrated by the above changes to rules on working hours, this is deeply concerning.”

Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said putting “new recruits behind the wheel of a 40-tonne truck with incomplete training” is not the way to tackle the shortage.

“It also beggars belief that, in a letter about a problem caused by Brexit, the government celebrates leaving the EU as it allows us to cut standards and safety to address the issue,” she said.

But a government spokesperson said: “Road safety is of paramount importance and all HGV drivers will continue to undergo rigorous testing.

“Under these proposals drivers would still need to undertake the off-road manoeuvres part of the test – and would have to be supervised when driving until fully qualified.”