Early access to HGV theory exams for young people

The UK’s transport sector continues to face a workforce shortage, particularly in the areas of bus, coach and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. In response, the Department for Transport (DfT) has proposed sweeping changes aimed at attracting younger talent and bolstering the nation’s haulage industry.

At the heart of the DfT’s initiative is a proposal to permit individuals without a provisional driving license to commence theoretical and off-road training for HGVs, buses and coaches. This move could potentially open up a wealth of career opportunities for young people, while simultaneously addressing the critical shortage of drivers that has plagued the industry over recent years.

According to Roads Minister, Guy Opperman, “Being a bus, coach or lorry driver can be an excellent career for young people, and these proposals could help get younger talent into transport, encouraging diversity in the sector. This could be a win-win, not only improving job opportunities for those leaving school but also going some way to continue to ease driver shortages, delivering more reliable bus and coach services and a more resilient supply chain as part of our plan to grow the economy.”

The urgency of the situation is underscored by industry data, which estimates the national bus driver shortage at a staggering 6.6%, while the coach driver shortage stands at an alarming 13.6%. These measures, if implemented, could open up a brilliant career path in transport to younger individuals, tackle the persistent driver shortages, and ultimately improve the reliability of bus and coach services, thereby contributing to overall economic growth and delivering a brighter future for all.

Beyond addressing the workforce shortage, the DfT’s proposal aims to strengthen the country’s haulage sector and ensure the efficient delivery of essential goods and services. A more robust and qualified pool of lorry drivers could help bolster the resilience of the supply chain, ensuring that medical supplies reach hospitals, parcels are delivered on time, and supermarket shelves remain well-stocked.

While the proposed measures would relax the current age restrictions for commencing HGV training, the Department for Transport has been adamant that all prospective drivers will still be required to meet the same rigorous training standards as before. The consultation also seeks to remove the existing limit that restricts 18 to 20-year-old bus and coach drivers to routes within a 50km radius, aligning their operational scope with that of articulated lorry drivers.

Chris Yarsley, the senior policy manager for road freight regulation at Logistics UK, acknowledged the potential advantages of allowing young people to begin their driver theory training before obtaining their provisional licenses, as it could accelerate their entry into the HGV driving profession. However, he cautioned that operating vehicles of such magnitude is a technically challenging occupation, highly regulated for valid reasons. Yarsley emphasised the need to ensure that all necessary training for qualifying as a safe and compliant driver is still achieved before taking to the roads, regardless of the proposed changes.

The government’s consultation process will provide a platform for stakeholders, including industry representatives, safety organisations and advocacy groups, to offer their insights and feedback. This collaborative approach aims to ensure that the proposed measures strike an appropriate balance between addressing workforce needs and maintaining robust safety standards within the haulage industry.

By taking proactive steps to attract younger individuals to the transport sector and addressing the driver shortage, the DfT’s initiative could have far-reaching implications for the country’s economic growth, supply chain resilience and overall transportation infrastructure. However, as with any significant policy change, careful consideration and input from relevant stakeholders will be crucial in shaping the final implementation and ensuring the desired outcomes are achieved while prioritising safety and regulatory compliance.