The government has given the go ahead for category B licence holders to operate heavier vans, so long as the vehicles run on alternative fuel.

Under the new legislation, which came into force this week, category B drivers [car] will be eligible to drive vans weighing between 3.5 and 4.25 tonnes that are powered by either electricity, natural gas, LPG or hydrogen.

The driver must also have completed at least five hours of additional training, which can only be provided by instructors listed on either the National Register of LGV Instructors or on the National Vocational Driving Instructors Register.

The legislation is aimed at encouraging the uptake of alternatively fuelled vehicles and therefore improving air quality.

Previously category B drivers [who took their test after 1 January 1997] were limited to driving vans up to 3.5 tonnes.

However, as alternative fuel technology can weigh more than a conventional vehicle, the result was that operators were left with a payload disadvantage, all things being equal, if they chose cleaner fuels.

In addition, alternative-fuel vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes would have fallen into the regulatory O-licensing regime, but have been granted an exemption.

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Transport minister Jesse Norman said: “The government’s Road to Zero Strategy sets out our ambition for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.

“By changing these driving licence requirements, we are seeking to support business owners by enabling them to use alternatively fuelled vehicles more easily.”

The RHA welcomed the move but said government should also consider legislating for heavier HGVs that are alternatively fuelled.

RHA policy director Duncan Buchanan told “The whole objective of this is to maintain the payload of the vehicle since the weight of the alternative fuel technology can leave little payload.

"And this is very welcome but for the same reasons we now also have to look at allowing higher capacity alternatively fuelled vehicles in the HGV sector.”

James Firth, FTA head of road freight regulation, said: “This may be the first time the government has given transport operators a tangible operational advantage through investing in greener technology.

“The guidance will fuel interest in the alternatively-fuelled commercial vehicle market; hopefully it will pave the way for such vehicles to become the norm rather than the exception."