Under plans being drawn up, the Government will seek to drop EU rules on newly-qualified drivers operating HGVs.If the bill is successful, teenagers who have recently passed their driving licence exam will be able to apply to operate lorries, large vans and minibuses. The UK has endured a shortage of delivery drivers post-Brexit, but some in Government hope that ditching EU rules that limit the types of vehicles newly-qualified drivers can operate could help. However, Whitehall officials are reportedly concerned that road safety campaigners could oppose the plan. Britain has a shortage of 100,000 lorry drivers, according to recent estimates, affecting the delivery of food, fuel and other items over the past year.
Many blame the massive shortage of drivers on older truckers retiring during the COVID-19 pandemic and on European drivers not returning to the UK after Brexit.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey is among those supporting the plan to allow newly-qualified drivers to take on driving roles.
She also revealed that the Department for Transport was looking at making the change as part of the Brexit “freedoms bill”, which is due to be included in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
The legislation, which is being drawn up by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, proposes to ditch up to £1billion of red tape.
As reported by The Times, Supermarket leaders are said to have responded positively to the plan.
They are hoping it will enable them to hire more drivers without the need for additional tests.
Edmund King, president of the AA, said of the proposals: “Reinstating the licence rights previously held by drivers before 1997 is certainly the fastest and easiest way the government can try to address the van and lorry driver shortage.
“However, reputable businesses will know that handing over the keys of a seven-tonne lorry to a newly qualified driver is not as simple as it sounds. Significant and meaningful training will still be required to ensure road safety standards don’t fall.
“Small trucks are fitted with more safety equipment than ever before, making them simpler to drive compared to those from 25 years ago, but driving one is still a big responsibility and safety shouldn’t be compromised.”
Road deaths in the UK have fallen significantly in recent decades, which experts say is mainly due to tougher rules and regulations.
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He told i: “[Brexit] is part of it by definition.”
Mr Smith said the shortage is “partially due to EU nationals leaving” the country, adding that a European exodus accounts for approximately one sixth of the lost workforce.
He said the main effect of Brexit on the industry has been the impact to the flexible nature of the sector, as the UK heavily relies on EU nationals to plug the gaps when demand increases in busy periods, such as the summer and winter months.
Mr Smith added: “At least 50 percent of the flexibility is born by European nationals, enabling the increase and decrease of drivers as the industry demands.”