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HGV Driving Tests

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 1 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards amending the requirements of the driving test for HGV drivers.

I am doubling up and answering for my noble friend Lady Vere of Norbiton today. There is something about Whips: they are definitely versatile, if nothing else.

Regulations came into force on 15 November 2021: the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021, which removed the staging element for provisional vocational licence holders wishing to drive an articulated HGV, and the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2021, which allow HGV off-road manoeuvres to be tested by approved third parties. Legislation for the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 was relaid on 23 November 2021 to allow full car licence holders to tow a trailer without having to pass a separate category B+E test.

My Lords, the Government’s emergency measures to deal with the driver shortage include ending the need for additional training and testing for qualified van and car drivers before they can tow trailers and caravans of up to 3,500 kilograms. In future, you will be able to pass your driving test one day and tow your caravan up the motorway the next, without any additional training. This requirement was originally introduced in 1997 for road safety reasons. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to look again at this irresponsible plan and heed the serious safety warnings coming from the haulage industry to preserve Britain’s good record on road safety?

The department and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency will continue to encourage people who want to drive a car and trailer to get professional training, to promote road safety and support those businesses. All car drivers wishing to tow a trailer for leisure or business will be encouraged to undertake a voluntary accreditation scheme, which is being developed with the help of the trailer industry and training providers. The scheme is planned to be launched early next year and will focus on a core model for all drivers, with sector-specific modules for different towing activities.

My Lords, almost 30 years ago I made my maiden speech in another place on road safety, after I lost one of my schoolfriends in a traffic accident. According to the Road Haulage Association, new recruits to the industry may be put off by the Government’s plans to allow longer hours. Is the Minister aware of this? What is her assessment of the implications for road safety of increasing drivers’ hours? Are there any plans for a review after 12 months to assess the impact?

We take safety very seriously. Any death on the road is one death too many. Our record on road safety is internationally recognised, and we will continue to work across a range of sectors to ensure that the details of those changes continue to support high driving standards for both HGVs and private motorists. We have committed to review the legislation at regular intervals—initially at three years and then at five.

What support is there for the Government’s proposals as far as the future of the industry is concerned? Does the Minister agree with me and the Road Haulage Association that shorter driving tests do not make for better drivers? There are enough problems around people dying as a result of collisions with heavy goods vehicles without making the driving test any easier.

I absolutely understand what the noble Lord is saying, but we held quite a big consultation. A lot of people in the industry were happy with the new rules going ahead. We have had to take some action to ease the problem, and I feel we have taken proportionate action to do this without hampering safety on the roads.

In the last 18 months, we have lost 55,000 domestic United Kingdom HGV drivers. Many reasons have been given for this, one of which is the lack of proper facilities on the routes which they cover. I know the Government have provided £32 million in the Budget to alleviate some of these problems, but does my noble friend think this is enough, particularly as there is a mammoth shortage—only 1,400 places for parking these vehicles while heavy goods vehicle drivers carry out their work?

My noble friend makes a very good point. We are committed to looking at established and new approaches to increase the provision for improved overnight lorry parking in England, as well as developing innovative approaches to provide more capacity. The Secretary of State has announced an investment of £32.5 million in the next spending period in roadside facilities for HGV drivers on the road. The funding will go towards supporting the industry to improve the security and facilities available to existing sites, making the use of lorry parks more attractive to drivers. It may also be used to increase spaces for lorry drivers in England, mainly through part funding of local proposals. This can clearly be done; my noble friend Lady Bloomfield told me this morning that a new facility has been opened in Kent which has 400 additional slots opening up over the Christmas period, with top-range food—both foreign and English—as well as showers, loos and everything else that might be needed.

As has been said, one of the issues raised in relation to the shortage of HGV drivers is the poor facilities available for such drivers to take a break out of the cab and be able to get something to eat, use clean toilets and take a shower. We continue to see massive developments in warehousing and logistics, with giant sheds being put up and distribution centres opened. Why do the Government not set minimum standards for the facilities that have to be provided for drivers, and why is that not a requirement for granting planning permission for such developments, including those facilities having to be available to all HGV drivers who wish to use them?

The noble Lord makes a good point. The Government are determined that the planning system should play its part in meeting the needs of hauliers and addressing current deficiencies. Planning plays a critical part in the allocation of land for lorry parking. On 8 November, the Secretary of State for Transport published a Written Ministerial Statement addressing the strategic national need for more lorry parking and better services and lorry parks in England, and we will be investing £32.5 million in roadside facilities. We have published planning practice guidance setting out how local planning authorities can assess the need for, and allocate land to, logistical site users, and we are accelerating work recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission to consider the appropriateness of current planning practice guidance. This includes taking forward a review of how the freight sector is currently represented in guidance.

My Lords, has the Minister ever tried to reverse a caravan, a trailer or a boat or heavy goods vehicle trailer? Would she not agree that it needs quite a lot of training? It is very nice for those who cannot be bothered to take a test to hear the Government say that we do not need a test any more, but that cannot contribute to road safety.

The noble Lord will be pleased to hear that I can reverse a trailer; I have been doing so from quite a young age, and quite successfully. At the moment, I have to reverse a trailer into a tiny space by our carport, and I can do it.

But the noble Lord makes an important point. The reversing exercise is one of the common reasons for failure in most of the tests; taking and passing this part of the test with an assessor from the driver’s training school will speed up this element of the test without compromising safety. The Government have announced 32 measures to tackle the driver shortage and bolster supply chains in the UK. However, we are not taking away safety, and we hope that the fact that the test will still be done, even if it is by the training school, means that it will be safe.

My Lords, I am glad that I did not ask the question about reversing. I follow up the excellent question from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, about facilities. Has the Minister ever been to France? In France, they do not just have service areas but “aires” where heavy good vehicles can stop or park, with toilets and places where the drivers can wash, and they are all the way down every motorway and main road. If the French can do it, why cannot we?

We are heading into the ridiculous now, are we not? I answered that question when I answered my noble friend Lord Kirkhope. I could not agree more; this is very important and vital. If we do not do this, we will not get the drivers to drive our HGV lorries, and we are working on this. As I said, it can be done, because one in Kent has just opened.