UK drivers don’t need training: only a half-wit would agree with that statement, but that is exactly how one might try to justify the UK’s response to the EU directive on driver training which comes into effect in 12 months time. The directive was introduced to improve and harmonise the training and testing of professional drivers throughout the EU. Sadly the truth is that we are slowly slipping down the road safety rankings, we have an ageing workforce and the professionalism of UK drivers is often not what it used to be.
Over the past 20 years the whole logistics sector has changed beyond recognition and with it the work of the driver, but neither the driver training nor the testing have kept pace with these changes. Against this background new recruits to driving are very different from their predecessors, most of whom had served in the forces and were more easily adaptable to the varying work demands. Most drivers had already had some driving experience and learned discipline in the forces. At the same time most operators accepted insurance company demands that all drivers should be 25+. This then became the norm and guaranteed that few young people would or could consider a career as a lorry driver.
Although the shortage of truck drivers is almost a global problem, other countries do not suffer from many of the difficulties now facing the UK transport sector. This time bomb has now been made even worse by the combined actions of the Driver Standards Agency and those “representing” the sector. Instead of embracing the EU directive and using it to improve the image and professionalism of a career as a professional driver, the UK has basically tweaked an already meaningless Theory Test and left any training totally unregulated.
The UK is not alone in opting for a “test only” response to the directive, but unlike virtually all other EU states we have no accredited classroom training. Our practical driver training and testing is probably of a similar standard to that of most other countries. However, for most countries the largest part of driver training involves classroom modules teaching all the other essential skills required of a professional driver. It is these underpinning skills and understanding of the job which make the sector more efficient and the roads safer. Without such training and the provision of a proper career path there seems no end to the current shortage of professional drivers. Perhaps we should reflect upon the fact that the average age of Swedish drivers is not much more than half that of their UK counterpart.
Geoffrey Cave-Wood has spent most of his working life in European road transport. Currently, through his Supporting Logistics consultancy, he works on international training programmes.