Scott Barry

Changes to lorry tests to address HGV driver shortages require caps on driver training charges and the introduction of mandatory mentoring schemes to properly solve shortages.

We want to see more considered measures ahead of government-led changes being introduced on 15 November 2021. Reducing the length of driver tests is not the most-effective answer for getting more HGV drivers on UK roads.

Under current rules, a Category CE artic driver must first pass a test in a rigid Category C truck. The changes will end this process, with provisional lorry licence holders able to go straight to Category CE testing.

Scrapping the requirement for Category C training and testing also scraps a valuable revenue scheme for training providers. Each driver will spend around £2,500 to obtain a C licence and then a similar amount again as they aim to upgrade to CE.

Forthcoming lorry test changes mean that HGV training providers could see half their income disappear overnight and these companies will need to recoup losses and it’s plausible they’ll do this by hiking up the costs of CE training.

Escalating costs of CE would render test changes useless, as new drivers would be priced out of getting their licences. Serious thought needs to be given to placing a cap on training charges to ensure licences remain affordable for drivers and businesses.

Lorry testing changes will mean that provisional licence holders can take their large articulated lorry test without having to pass a test first in a rigid lorry. Other changes are also being made to the CE test, where reversing and ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercises are removed to make them shorter and free up more time to test more drivers.

We’re going to have many more scenarios where a lot of new, provisional drivers are going from driving cars and vans to vehicles about ten times the size of what they’re used to. This is a big leap and, despite training and testing, can make the first few months of HGV driving nervy, uncomfortable and stressful for them.

These circumstances risk causing a high dropout rate of new drivers. A buddy-type mentor scheme, where new drivers spend their first few weeks shadowing experienced drivers, would build their confidence. They’d be able to tackle tricky manoeuvres like reversing with guidance and it’d help address any dangers created by shorter, potentially less thorough tests.

Tests are being shortened to fast-track new drivers into the industry, with the government believing up to 50,000 more tests could be made available per year. We believe a more effective route to achieving this would be to focus on pre-test steps to build driver confidence.

In some areas, there’s around a 40% failure rate for first-time drivers taking CE tests. More often than not, this is due to nerves. If the level of failures can be reduced, it would free up a considerable amount of resource to do more testing.

Pre-test, more time could be allowed for new drivers to familiarise themselves with vehicles and run through what they’ve learnt. This could involve learners driving around a private area with no public roads to help settle nerves and wouldn’t necessarily require additional time from approved testers.

If changes to HGV testing are to solve problems of driver shortages, they need to be much more considerate of building confidence in new drivers. Potentially shortcutting training and testing will not achieve this and risks creating driver churn that could make it more challenging for the industry to recruit and retain talent.

Scott Barry, operations director, Advanced Supply Chain Group