Middle-aged HGV drivers are the most likely to have left the industry in the last four years, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said lorry drivers in the age group 46 to 55 have seen the largest decline since 2016, plummeting by almost 34,000.

By comparison, the age group 56 to 65 years has fluctuated over the same period, with a much smaller number of around 1,000 leaving the industry.

The ONS said that between 2018 and 20019, the number of younger HGV drivers had generally been increasing and reached a peak of more than 68,000 aged up to 35 in the year ending 2019, before decreasing to around 52,000 by the year ending June 2021.

An estimated 268,000 people were employed as lorry drivers between July 2020 and June 2021, which was 39,000 fewer than the year ending June 2019 and 53,000 fewer than the peak for HGV driver employment during the year ending June 2017 – 321,000.

The ONS said the number of EU nationals employed as HGV drivers increased between 2017 and 2020, but then decreased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, a report from recruiters Driver Require claimed there has been an exodus of 150,000 new HGV passes below the age of 40 over the last decade.

It said it was “shocking” that after all the efforts of attracting candidates into the industry, this had been squandered by a lack of action in retaining them. Driver Require said more research was needed to understand why licence holders left the industry, in order to develop targeted initiatives to bring them back.