A decision by transport secretary Grant Shapps to temporarily extend lorry drivers’ working hours has been met by criticism from drivers’ unions and industry bodies.
From Monday (12 July), HGV drivers will be able to increase their daily driving limits from nine to 10 hours, or make changes to their weekly rest patterns, in a bid to combat a shortage of drivers.
However, the Road Haulage Association called the move a “sticking plaster” that would not “make any material difference” to the shortfall of drivers, which it estimates to be around 60,000.
It said the move failed to fix any of the underlying issues behind the driver shortage, which it attributes to the pandemic and the fact many drivers that used to come from EU countries to work have returned home.
Around 30,000 HGV driving tests did not take place last year due to the pandemic, according to the RHA.
The Unite union advised its driver members not to “place themselves in danger” by working longer hours.
Adrian Jones, national officer for road transport, said: “If they are too tired to drive safely, they have a legal right to refuse to do so. Unite will fully support those who make that decision, legally and industrially.”
Another industry body, Logistics UK, said that longer hours could add to the pressure on drivers who have already worked “flat out since the start of the pandemic”.
“Instead of trying to paper over the gaps, government should be working with industry to produce a plan to support moving drivers through the current bottleneck of HGV driving tests,” said James Firth, head of road freight regulation at the organisation.
Shapps indicated that companies must notify the Department for Transport if they choose to use the temporary extension, insisting that driver safety should not be compromised.
The relaxation will apply between 12 July and 8 August 2021. Consecutive weekly rest periods taken before 12 July must be taken into account, and up to three consecutive rest periods may include one taken before 8 July.
Drivers’ subsequent consecutive full regular rest periods, including compensatory rest, can be taken in whole or in part after the end of this relaxation, the DfT said.
The guidance advises: “It must be used only where necessary, otherwise, the normal drivers’ hours rules should be followed. The DfT encourages operators facing high work demands or work absences to take urgent measures to secure drivers who have limited or no current work.”