The freight industry has criticised an extension of lorry drivers’ working hours as unsafe.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps today (Thursday) announced a temporary extension that will drivers to work for up to 10 hours a day, up from a current nine hours.
The move comes as lorry driver shortages threaten supermarket supplies.
But critics say increasing driving hours is not the answer to a skills shortages and it could lead to greater road accidents.
James Firth, head of road freight regulation policy at Logistics UK, said the government had “ignored” the views of industry and it “vehemently opposed the extension of these vital road safety laws”.
“Extending working hours is untenable and not the solution to the wider issue. Logistics businesses need and deserve answers, not wallpapering over the problem,” Firth said.
The logistics industry has been heavily impacted by factors including Covid-19 and the UK’s exit from the European Union, which saw many EU workers return to their home countries.
Almost 30,000 HGV driving tests were cancelled throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and estimates suggest approximately 90,000 new drivers are required to meet the demand for supplies.
The shortfall has risen from 60,000 before the start of the pandemic.
Logistics UK said the sector needs a long-term approach to shortages, including temporary visas for EU workers to cover gaps while new recruits can be trained and interest-free loans for those wishing to enter the industry.
Shapps said the move would offer drivers greater flexibility. He also said the government had made a greater number of driving tests available and was considering other methods to tackle the crisis.
Rob Wright, executive director at consultancy SCALA, said the announcement was a “backwards step” and it was not safe for overworked drivers to be on the road.
He said: “Driver shortages are a problem the government should have foreseen, given that there has been a UK driver shortage for more than 10 years, largely filled by EU and Eastern European drivers.”
The announcement follows emergency talks between the government and logistics providers at the end of June, after the Road Haulage Association warned of the “crippling” effects driver shortages would have on supermarket supplies.
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