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As the government plans a further four-month extension to the relaxation of HGV drivers’ hours, it has emerged that only around 450 haulage firms have used the extension to make their drivers work longer hours.

The take-up rate emerged in a consultation document sent to industry stakeholders this week which proposes to take the current temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours beyond the 3 October deadline and through the peak period to 23 January 2022.

Union Unite called the plans “reckless and dangerous” this week as the RHA warned against the move.

The relaxation of drivers’ hours was introduced on 12 July in a bid to tackle the UK’s shortage of HGV drivers as Brexit saw hundreds of EU drivers return to the continent and the Covid-19 pandemic created a surge in online shopping.

The consultation document acknowledges that the move has not been a panacea. It states: “The department is aware that the acute shortage of HGV drivers has not been satiated and given the uptake of the relaxations, there is still an interest in the use of relaxations.”

It also reveals a low level of interest in making drivers work longer hours as a way of tackling the driver shortage crisis. It states that between 12 July to 8 August 2021, the DfT received just 515 notifications from operators intending to use the relaxation. Of those 515, 213 sent in follow-up forms on how they used the relaxations, of which 63 indicated that they had not, in the end, used the relaxations.

Nonetheless the DfT is proposing the relaxation be extended to 23 January 2021. The document states: “The DfT is proposing one of two options. The first sees the daily driving limit increased from 9 hours to 10 hours and drivers also allowed to drive for 11 hours up to twice a week.

The second option is to replace the weekly rest period of 45 hours in a two-week period with two weekly rest periods of at least 24 hours, and an increase to the fortnightly driving limit from 90 hours to 99 hours. This would enable two consecutive reduced weekly rest periods to be taken.

Under the government’s current temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day, compared to the previous maximum of 10 hours, and a total of 99 hours a fortnight, compared to the previous 90 hours, with rest periods also reduced.

However, whilst the proposed extension covers the Christmas rush, the document warns that any further relaxation of drivers’ hours cannot be granted on the basis of peak period demand, arguing that operators have time to plans for these seasonal surges.

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It states: “Previous correspondence with stakeholder groups has indicated that the autumn harvest and the run-up to Christmas would apply additional pressure to already stressed supply chains.

“However, these are annually occurring, anticipated events for which the department expects stakeholders be able usually to adequately plan and so they do not warrant further relaxations.

“If additional relaxations to certain drivers’ hours rules are requested, we will need detailed reasons as to why they are necessary, as well as clear evidence as to how the relaxations will alleviate the issue.”

RHA MD of policy and public affairs Rod Mckenzie said: “We are opposed to any further extension of drivers’ hours.

“Making tired drivers work even longer stressful hours is bad for their safety and bad for the safety of the roads as tired drivers do not make better drivers.

“In addition, if we are to attract new recruits into our industry it’s not a great advert to say when things get tough we will make you work even longer hours.

“Wisely many operators are declining the offer of extending drivers’ hours on safety grounds and their duty of care to staff.”

A UK government spokesperson said: "We recognise business are facing a range of challenges and we are taking steps to support them, including streamlining the process for new HGV drivers and increasing the number of driving tests. Progress has already being made in testing and hiring, with improving pay, working conditions and diversity.

"We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points. Through our Plan for Jobs we’re helping people across the UK retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”

The consultation period ends today (22 September).