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The temporary rules allowing HGV drivers to be on the road for longer are expected to be extended until January 2022, according to Unite, which has described the move as ‘potentially illegal’.
The union has learned that the government is looking at continuing the relaxation on driving hours until 23 January. The rules were relaxed on 12 July in an effort to ease pressure on supply chains caused by a shortage of lorry drivers. That relaxation is currently scheduled to end on 3 October.
Existing regulations allow for a "temporary" relaxation in driving hours, but Unite has said what would be a six-month period of extended hours and other recent period of relaxation is not ‘temporary’. It is seeking legal advice on the issue. Since the start of the pandemic, HGV driving regulations have been relaxed for 10 out of 18 months
Under the government’s relaxation, drivers can drive for up to 11 hours a day, compared to the usual maximum of 10 hours, and a total of 99 hours per fortnight (previously 90) with rest periods also reduced.
Sharon Graham, the new general secretary of Unite, said: “These latest proposals are a further knee-jerk response to a crisis wholly created by the employers and the government.
“Years of suppressing drivers’ pay and bypassing European regulations have led us to where we are now. The latest extension on hours will increase pressures on drivers and threaten public safety on UK roads.”
Unite believes the driving hours extension is having a cumulative effect on driver fatigue. With the increase in hours continuing through the winter, with longer periods of darkness and poorer weather, the union fears that accidents will increase.
A 2019 Unite survey found that 54% of lorry drivers work more than 50 hours a week and that three quarters report problems with their physical health due to long hours.
Unite national officer Adrian Jo