First they extended lorry drivers’ hours. Now, they’ve made the tests they have to pass to take to the roads easier.
I know, I know. Expecting something better than an attempt at a quick fix from this government in response to its Brexit-created driver shortages, which have led to a full blown supply chain crisis, was always a fool’s errand.
This is, after all, an administration that has time and again put culture wars above competence. So, yes, the real fools are the people in ministerial offices who are behind this. But let’s take a quick look at the changes.
They include requiring only one test to drive both a rigid and an articulated lorry, rather than two spaced a week apart. Tests will also be made shorter by removing the “reversing exercise” element – and for vehicles with trailers, the “uncoupling and re-coupling” exercise – and having them tested separately by a “third party” (think about that for a moment). Oh, and car drivers will no longer need to take a test to tow a trailer or caravan.
All this is with the aim of freeing up thousands of extra testing slots, in the hopes that getting an army of new drivers on the roads quickly will stave off a disaster at Christmas when the system is put under its greatest strain – and things could get really messy.
Just the last of those changes on its own is enough for anyone who’s driven in the vicinity of some rube with a caravan hooked to the back of an SUV, who has actually passed a test, to say “lord help us”.
The other bits look more technical, but remember, this was released on a Friday, which is always when the government tries to bury things it doesn’t want to draw attention to. The announcement also contained the claim that the tests can be altered because we don’t have to satisfy dastardly EU requirements any longer, which is both the government’s favourite excuse and its top deflection tactic.
Then, there was the by now de rigueur pile of complete and utter BS that would wake up even the FBI’s most decrepit polygraph. “The standard of driving required to drive an HGV will not be affected, with road safety continuing to be of paramount importance,” declared the department for transport. Ding ding ding ding ding.
If road safety were really of paramount importance, an earlier decision to extend drivers’ hours wouldn’t have been taken. There’s probably only one thing that’s more dangerous to yourself and other road users than driving while fatigued and that’s driving drunk.
Is that the next step? Installing a bottle of Scotch in every cab so knackered drivers can keep on trucking with the aid of a handy whisky pick-me-up?
Seriously, the prospect of thousands of novice drivers taking to the roads was always going to pose a risk. This is not a knock on them. It’s just a fact that you’re much more likely to find yourself in an accident as a novice driver, than you are when you’ve picked up some experience. This was something I learned after I nearly ploughed my car into a street sign the first time I took to the road after chucking out my L plates.
Needless to say, a lorry is a lot harder to drive than a low-powered Ford Fiesta – and it’s a more dangerous piece of equipment. Take it from me. I spent an uncomfortably long time trapped under the wheels of the one that knocked me off my bike.
I was disturbed, at the weekend, to see one of those enormous and threatening “cyclists beware” signs atop a Co-op lorry. “I can’t see you. Be careful. Stay alive”, it said. Or something like that.
“It’s your job to watch out for me,” is precisely the wrong message to be sending with a bunch of novice drivers taking to the road.
But I suppose it’s no worse than the government coming up with wheezes like this one to solve problems of its own creation because it is worried that people will start to get cross if there’s nothing for their kids to open on Christmas morning.
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