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Road Transport Driving: Licences and Qualifications

Road Transport Driving: Licences and Qualifications

If you’ve been thinking of carving out a new career in the world of road transport, or using your military-gained driver qualifications in civvy street, there’s never been a better time – especially where HGVs are concerned. Here’s the steer on professional driver qualifications, licensing and training …

What’s involved?

With Britain’s current – and very well-publicised – shortage of lorry drivers, causing real and growing concern about food and fuel deliveries, this article aims to give you the inside track on road freight and passenger transport driver training, with a particular focus on the qualifications and licensing that will help you make your way in these sectors at a time when new drivers (or those already holding relevant military driving qualifications) are very much sought after.

The movement of freight – more usually known as logistics (see our feature here for more) – is often described in terms of the method used to transport goods (i.e. road, sea, air or rail), however major logistics companies use all types of transport within a variety of industries. It is still very much the case, though, that road freight transport by lorry makes up the majority of the market: in the UK it is the main mode in use and still on the increase. The industry is heavily reliant on subcontractors and smaller haulage firms, hence the need for extensive, well-structured and continuing training to recruit and retain drivers. However, as anyone who watches the news or reads a newspaper will know, filling such roles seems to be easier said than done at the moment.

A recently published Road Haulage Association (RHA) survey of its members estimates there is now a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified lorry drivers in the UK. The scale of the problem is clear to see. Added to this, the covid pandemic has created a significant backlog in HGV driver tests, making it impossible to get sufficient numbers of new drivers up and running. Indeed, the industry warned the prime minister some months ago that 25,000 fewer candidates had passed their test in 2020 than in 2019. This is compounded by the fact that, following Brexit, many European drivers returned to their home countries, or decided to work elsewhere, and are now either unable to return or do not wish to do so. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen if temporary visas will tempt them back. On top of all this is what is perhaps the main underlying factor, pre-dating the most recent problems – an ageing workforce, which has seen drivers retiring and not being replaced. Haulage companies say the average age of HGV drivers in the UK is 55, and they want more to be done to attract younger workers. A perfect storm indeed!

To try to address some of the aforementioned problems, Ministry of Defence examiners are being brought in to increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place. Added to which intensive ‘boot camps’ have been announced to train 3,000 people to become HGV drivers free of charge, with another 1,000 to be trained through courses funded by the country’s adult education budget. The intensive courses will train drivers to be road ready, and will see them gain a category C or CE licence (see below for more information on licensing and licence types). Fuel tanker drivers need additional safety qualifications, which the government will work with industry to ensure can be accessed as quickly as possible. It is also writing to nearly one million drivers who hold an HGV licence to encourage them to return to the industry. The government has already called on the military to offer emergency logistical support with fuel deliveries, and is also bringing in legislation to allow delegated emergency services driving examiners and the MoD to be able to conduct driving tests for one another. This will give them greater flexibility and help increase the number of HGV tests that can be provided. Take a look at the accompanying box, ‘Government takes steps to tackle HGV driver shortage’, to find out more.

Government takes steps to tackle HGV driver shortage

The government is introducing measures including the following, in an attempt to tackle the current shortage of HGV drivers:

  • up to 4,000 people will be trained as new HGV drivers to help tackle skills shortages and support more people to launch careers within the logistics sector
  • package of measures includes using MoD examiners to help increase immediate HGV testing capacity
  • nearly 1 million letters to be sent to all drivers who currently hold an HGV driving licence, encouraging them back into the industry.

Click here to find out more.

Skill up while serving

The Defence School of Transport (DST) provides driver and transport management training to personnel from the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines via a huge range of courses. Its Driver Training Squadron (DTS) provides foundation and progressive licence acquisition training, including theory training, across the most common licence categories (category B, C, CE, D and D1).

The DST provides more than 94 different course types, making it the largest residential driver training school in the world. Programmes emphasise vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, so that every student on a major course leaves with a qualification.

For resettlement, training in transport and driving can be accessed through a host of training providers, as well as the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). If you are a Service driver who already holds a C or CE Licence (see the box titled ‘Vehicle licensing categories’) you may need to convert to civilian standards and practices, but it is likely that this might soon be easier than in the past bearing in mind the country’s urgent requirement for new drivers.

Driver CPC and Armed Forces drivers

Driver CPC stands for Driver Certificate of Professional Competence. Because those driving as part of their job in the Armed Forces are exempt from Driver CPC requirements while serving – Driver CPC (see below for more info) does not form part of MoD large goods vehicle (LGV) training – those leaving the Forces who do not already hold Driver CPC will need to pass a series of initial qualification tests with both theory and practical elements. New drivers who pass these initial tests will receive a Driver Qualification Card (DQC) to show that they hold Driver CPC. Driver CPC status must be maintained with 35 hours of periodic training every five years or the certificate will lapse (this also applies to those who already hold Driver CPC and don’t need to go through the initial training).

Get qualified!

To become a professional lorry, bus or coach driver you need to:

  • hold a full car driving licence (category B)
  • be aged over 18 for lorries, or 24 for buses and coaches (but there are some exceptions).

If you meet these criteria the next steps are to:

  • apply for your provisional lorry or bus etc. driving licence
  • complete a Driver CPC qualification.

You must hold full Driver CPC (see below) if you drive a lorry, bus or coach as the main part of your job. You need to pass four tests to get it (the first two are theory based and the second two practical):

  1. theory test
  2. case studies
  3. licence acquisition (practical test of driving ability)
  4. Driver CPC practical test (vehicle safety demonstration).

Click here for full information.

Road freight transport driving

LGV (C) licence holders (see the box titled ‘Vehicle licensing categories’) require a current clean B (motor car) licence, and a minimum age of 18. Some insurers may insist that those driving certain loads (e.g. hazardous chemicals) are aged over 30. Employers and trainers look for ability in reading, writing and maths, and require an aptitude test. Everyone is required to take a medical exam, including eyesight and colour blindness tests. 

FACTFILE

VEHICLE LICENSING CATEGORIES

The basic commercial large goods vehicle licence categories are as follows:

Medium-sized vehicles

  • Category C1 – you can drive vehicles between 3,500 and 7,500kg, with a trailer up to 750kg
  • Category C1E – you can drive C1 category vehicles, with a trailer over 750kg

Large vehicles

  • Category C – you can drive vehicles over 3,500kg, with a trailer up to 750kg
  • Category CE – you can drive category C vehicles, with a trailer over 750kg

Minibuses

  • Category D1 – you can drive vehicles with: no more than 16 passenger seats, a maximum length of 8m, a trailer up to 750kg
  • Category D1E – you can drive D1 category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg

Buses

  • Category D – you can drive any bus with more than 8 passenger seats, with a trailer up to 750kg
  • Category DE – you can drive D category vehicles with a trailer over 750kg

Click here for full information.

The LGV Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC)

CPC training is continuing professional development that carries on throughout a professional lorry driver’s career. As mentioned above, all professional lorry drivers are now required to hold Driver CPC in addition to their vocational driving licence. This is designed to improve the knowledge and skills of professional LGV drivers throughout their working life. You must get the Driver CPC initial qualification if you are new to professional driving and want to drive a lorry, even if you have been doing similar work while in the Armed Forces. When you qualify you’ll be awarded a Driver Qualification Card (DQC). You must have this with you whenever you’re driving professionally.

There are two parts to the qualification:

  1. the initial qualification, which must be achieved by new LGV drivers along with their vocational licence to enable them to use their licence professionally
  2. periodic training, which involves all professional drivers undertaking 35 hours of training every five years.

The initial Driver CPC qualification that new LGV drivers have to pass before being able to drive professionally can be taken at the same time as the vocational driving test. 

Passenger transport: coach and bus driving

There are no formal academic entry requirements to become a coach driver, although employers expect basic levels of literacy and numeracy. Bus drivers, however, need to have a PCV licence, also known as a category D licence (see the box titled ‘Vehicle licensing categories’), as well their PCV Driver CPC (see below). To drive for a commercial operation, coach drivers will also need PCV Driver CPC. Adult entry is common, and Forces drivers who hold a category D licence must convert to civilian standards and practices. To train for this licence, a full UK driving licence is required. Drivers cannot train for the PCV licence and Driver CPC until they are at least 18, and PCV drivers must usually wait until the age of 24 to be allowed to drive on major bus or coach routes. Many companies provide new drivers with PCV and Driver CPC training while paying them a trainee wage, although it is also possible to train for the licence and Driver CPC independently.

The PCV Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC)

As discussed in relation to lorry drivers above, all professional PCV drivers are also required to hold a Driver CPC in addition to their vocational (D or D1) driving licence. You must get the Driver CPC initial qualification if you’re new to professional driving and want to drive a bus or coach. When you qualify you’ll be awarded your Driver Qualification Card (DQC). You must have this with you at all times when you are driving professionally.

Again, there are two parts to the qualification:

  1. the initial qualification, which must be achieved by new PCV drivers along with their vocational licence to enable them to use their licence professionally
  2. periodic training, which involves all professional drivers undertaking 35 hours of training every five years.

New PCV drivers will have to pass an initial Driver CPC qualification before being able to drive professionally. This can be taken at the same time as the vocational driving test.

Find out more

Click here for full information on becoming a qualified professional lorry or bus/coach driver.

HOW TO GET – AND KEEP – FULL DRIVER CPC 

  1. Apply for a provisional lorry or bus licence.
  2. Pass the four tests that make up Driver CPC to qualify.
  3. Take 35 hours of periodic training every five years to stay qualified.
  4. Sign a declaration every five years until you’re 45 to show you still meet the medical standards.
  5. Provide a medical report every five years after you’re 45 to renew your driving licence – you need to do this every year when you reach 65.

To find out more, click here

Van driving

A number of people drive vans either full-time or as part of another job. Those driving vans over 3.5 tonnes need a C Licence and those driving vans over 7.5 tonnes require a C1 Licence (see the box titled ‘Vehicle licensing categories’). For smaller vans, only a B Licence is required. The minimum age for driving ‘light commercial vehicles’ is 18, although some insurers insist on 21. Some employers prefer people aged 25 with experience and a good driving record.

Chauffeurs

Driving, maintaining and cleaning high-powered cars, together with a B Licence, are the basic requirements for this employment. Chauffeurs should have several years’ driving experience with a clean record. Membership of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and some knowledge of defensive driving techniques could be advantageous.

Taxi drivers and private hire

Taxi drivers must hold a full, clean B Licence. They need good local area knowledge and may require a test. They are licensed by their local authority, or the Public Carriage Office in London, and this special licence can be held only by people over 21 who have passed a medical.

Carriage of dangerous goods

Every company involved in the transportation of dangerous goods must have a Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (DGSA), who must pass the necessary courses to become qualified in:

  • basic dangerous goods transport
  • safe transport of dangerous goods in small packages
  • completing and checking dangerous goods transport documents
  • safe loading of dangerous goods vehicles and containers.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website

Finding employment

Prospects for employment are good and one positive consequence of the current truck driver shortages is that wages for some are already going up. Even before covid and Brexit, the UK freight transport sector was heading for a massive shortfall in personnel and, with this in mind, a number of training companies are focused on helping Service leavers prepare to enter the industry.

For information about related careers in logistics and distribution, take a look at our feature here

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