The United Kingdom is dealing with the same squeeze on the driver supply as in the U.S., and its main regulatory agency has just eased its hours-of-service rules for a month to cope.
The reaction? The country’s major trucking trade group is not happy with the move.
The U.K. had continued to use European Union rules on hours of service even post-Brexit. The Department for Transport, in its announcement of the eased rules for the U.K., referred to them as the “retained EU drivers’ hours rules.”
“The temporary relaxation of the rules reflects the exceptional circumstances stemming from a shortage of HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers causing acute supply chain pressures,” the department said in its notice of the rule relaxation.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, announced the change in a tweet on his personal Twitter feed.
“We’re aware of a shortage of HGV drivers, so I’m announcing a temp extension of drivers’ hours rules from Mon. 12 July, giving flexibility to drivers & operators to make slightly longer journeys,” the tweet said. “We’ve ramped up the number of driving tests available & will consider other measures.”
The relaxation of the rules go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will cease at the end of the day on Aug. 8.
“Relaxing drivers’ hours won’t make any material difference and fails to address the underlying issues, which require a package of measures to fix,” the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said in a blog posting on its website.
Also on the webpage, the group’s chief executive, Richard Burnett, added that the organization opposes “wholesale extensions to drivers’ hours as we believe they can be counterproductive by making the job less attractive.”
“Loading more hours on to drivers that are already exhausted is not the answer – the problem needs more than just a sticking plaster,” he said.
Unlike an extension of the HOS rules in the U.S., which can give independent owner-operators the opportunity to drive more and make more money, the negative reaction on the part of the RHA and other industry groups quoted in the U.K. media makes clear that the concern here is that employees are going to be asked to work more and aren’t in a strong position to resist.
Among the changes in the rules from the previous EU regime, the daily driving limit goes up to 10 hours from nine hours, though twice in a week a driver can drive 11 hours.
But there is an alternative, involving total driving over a two-week period that can now be as high as 99 hours — the previous limit was 90 hours — as long as there is a rest period of 45 hours sometime in the two-week period. But the two-week standard gets complicated beyond that, with a series of exceptions on how the rest period can be taken.
The concern expressed by the RHA regarding driver safety was addressed by the Department for Transport when it declared that “driver safety must not be compromised.”
“Drivers should not be expected to drive while tired,” the department said. “Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees and other road users. The practical implementation of the temporary relaxation should be through agreement between employers and employees and driver representatives.”
Unlike extension of hours of service rules in the U.S., which are handed down by FMCSA and then implemented on the road, the U.K. extension will require trucking companies to notify the Department for Transport of its plans.
Reports in the U.K. about the reasons for the tight squeeze on drivers generally cite restrictions put up on the movement of workers by Brexit as well as the fact that non-domestic drivers that had been in the U.K. had returned home during the pandemic and have not returned.