The government has launched two different consultations on potential changes to driving licences.
The first is on driving licence flexibility for alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs). The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 4th October 2022 and is specifically on:
- additional training that drivers must complete to gain driving licence flexibility
- types of vehicles that should be eligible
- towing allowance of these vehicles
- fuel types that should be eligible
The second is a review which is calling for evidence on potential opportunities to improve the driving licensing regime, and closes at 11:45pm on 28th October 2022. This includes whether to grant drivers who have category B car licence entitlement additional entitlement to drive category C1 (7.5 tonnes) goods vehicles.
Typically, a driver must have a category C or C1 licence to operate a vehicle above 3.5 tonnes, the threshold where a large van is technically classed as a heavy goods vehicle (HGV). However, since 2018 category B licence holders have been allowed to drive alternatively-fuelled goods vans with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of 4.25 tonnes. The proposed changes would allow this to continue, enabling operators transitioning to alternative fuels to avoid the additional regulatory steps needed to ensure drivers have the correct licence.
Currently, category B drivers must undertake 5 hours of additional training before being permitted to operate AFVs from 3.5 tonnes to 4.25 tonnes on public roads, yet there are only two vocational driving instructor registers which are eligible to provide this additional training. The proposals on this are to expand this pool of eligible instructors, reform the training process or remove the training requirement completely.
Whilst the proposed changes would potentially benefit industries suffering from driver shortages, and encourage more operators to transition towards net zero, road safety implications need to be considered. Government data suggests that C1 vehicles have a higher rate of accidents than other HGVs per billion vehicle kilometres. In 2019, C1 vehicles were involved with 23% of accidents involving a goods vehicle over 3.5 tonnes, while representing only 7% of the total distance travelled for goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, and compared to the number of accidents where a car or van is towing, the number of C1 accidents were more than double. The removal of the C1 licence test could see individuals driving C1 vehicles with little or no experience and, when considering that 30% of drivers fail the test, this may increase the already higher accident rates.
“It is a sensible move to allow the network of vehicles to be slightly heavier to allow for the battery as well as the payload,” said Simon Ridley, Managing Director of Dawsongroup | vans. “However, on the suggested ‘grandfather’ rights, even though they would help certain industries, there needs to be a state of caution. Training needs to be provided to reduce potential accidents, and the organisation or company providing the vehicle have a duty of care to make sure the individual driving is capable and safe to drive the vehicle.”