UK removals company, Ballards has warned that recent changes to HGV driving licensing to manage driver shortages are risky and unworkable and that further proposals to relax the rules would set a dangerous precedent.
The announcement comes as the Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey is reported to have suggested a further relaxation of licensing rules by scrapping European Union rules which set limits on the types of vehicles newly-qualified drivers can operate.
In November 2021, HGV licensing rules were changed to allow learners to qualify for driving an articulated lorry (category CE) without having to first learn to drive a rigid lorry (category C). The changes were intended to speed up the licensing process to help overcome a nationwide shortage of drivers, but official figures show the number of vacancies in the sector has remained high.
With a fleet of 55 vehicles, including rigid and articulated HGVs, Ballards Removals currently has four drivers going through HGV driver training. The company has no plans to take advantage of the new licensing rules due to concerns over safety and difficulties in getting insurance cover.
Managing Director Matthew Ballard explained that he is unwilling to risk allowing inexperienced HGV drivers behind the wheel. “It sets a dangerous precedent, if you ask me. I can understand why the government implemented the new rules, as the logistics business has certainly felt the strain of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years, but this is just compounding the issue.”
He continued, “Even the most experienced HGV driver will tell you that driving an articulated lorry is extremely tough, and I have real concerns over how safe a newly qualified driver can possibly be if they’re driving an articulated lorry, before they’ve learned how to drive a rigid HGV and they’re still new to professional driving. It’s just too risky and I’m not comfortable allowing drivers to skip a step in their natural career progression - especially one that could endanger lives.”
In addition to the safety concerns, Matthew also argues the changes won’t help because insurers are either not covering newly qualified category CE drivers who have not separately secured a category C licence, or are charging premiums that are unaffordable for smaller companies.
“Getting insurance cover on a newly qualified driver with CE status without a separate C licence is virtually impossible for most businesses at the moment,” he explained. “Insurers know the risk and they just won’t cover it for smaller businesses. Only the largest multinational firms can afford it, so that means any small firms that do pay to train their drivers will only have them snatched away by the bigger employers, leaving the same number of vacancies.”
Matthew added, “We’re a firm believer in training staff all the way to the top, but this can’t be done by cutting corners. We’ve implemented a clear policy that no driver can progress to secure CE status without first having a minimum of one full year’s experience on the roads with their C licence under their belt.
He said that addressing the driver shortage is important, but this is best done by attracting qualified drivers back into the profession through better pay and working conditions, rather than risking everyone’s safety. “For us, these new changes and the ones they’re proposing are unworkable and they won’t solve the issues the industry is facing.”
Enabling it to overcome the driver shortage, Ballards has increased pay for all its team members, including drivers, and it is supporting four drivers through training to operate heavy goods vehicles.
Ash Mableson is one such driver to have recently passed his test to acquire an LGV licence. Ash is now qualified to operate a lorry over 7.5t and up to 32 tonnes in total. “I was initially a little apprehensive of the size of the truck but am now really enjoying it,” he said. “Matt and the team at Ballards really put the time and effort into training us all to make sure we’re not only knowledgeable, but also wise enough to know how to use that experience while we’re out on the roads.”
Photo: Ash Mableson.