Tests for lorry and van drivers on UK roads are being relaxed in an effort to tackle EU drivers shortages caused by Brexit and UK’s Covid travel rules.
The move comes after earlier this month transport secretary Grant Shapps announced a “temporary extension” of drivers’ working hours to make up for shortages of 60,000 HGV drivers.
Both measures have sparked fears over the safety of UK roads, but were hailed as a benefit from “increased post-Brexit sovereignty”, according to The Independent – whilst supermarkets shelves are facing severe shortages because deliveries cannot be made on time.
Removing driving test parts is ‘not the answer’
Under new government plans, more drivers would be recruited every week by being given permission to drive an articulated lorry “without also having to pass a rigid lorry practical test”.
People would also not have to pass additional tests before being allowed to attach a van or a trailer to the back of their car.
Becky Needham, RoSPA’s road safety officer, told the newspaper there is indeed a shortage of drivers, but removing test parts “is not 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,” Needham said.
Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, also criticised the government’s intention to allow “new recruits behind the wheel of a 40-tonne truck with incomplete training”.
“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.”
‘Worst driver shortage in five decades because of Brexit’
The government’s proposals come as a top Welsh haulage company said it is facing the worst driver shortage in five decades because of Brexit.
Ian Owen, managing director at Owens Group, told WalesOnline: “Brexit has meant a lot of European HGV drivers can earn more money elsewhere and we have had a lot contact us to say they are leaving and not returning. It’s meant we have had to look at promoting within; driver apprenticeships, and promoting warehouse workers and van drivers to HGV.
“We’re trying everything in our power to get more people in the industry and it’s not enough”.
Labour County Councillor Alexandra Bulat, who has campaigned heavily for EU citizens’ rights since Brexit, told The London Economic earlier this month that the government “should not compromise the safety of road users to score political points on immigration”.