Safety and business fears over trailer test scrapping

  • Scrapping the car and trailer towing test is an “accident waiting to happen” and will not solve the HGV driver shortage, leading industry figures have warned.

    The B+E test, introduced in 1997, has been scrapped as the Government scrambles to free up HGV tests. When the law changes, this will broadly mean anyone with a car licence will be able to tow a trailer weighing up to 3.5 tonnes maximum authorised mass.

    Yet while the B+E test has ended, there is still no exact date for when the new law will come in, beyond “the autumn”.

    The decision has sparked serious road safety concerns, and questions remain over whether it may result in a spike in demand for towing vehicles and trailers.

    Training schools, equine transport rescue service providers and road safety organisations are all strongly urging drivers to undertake training before hitching up.

    “We are very concerned about the scrapping of trailer tests and the implications for both general road safety and animal welfare,” Claire Barker, of PRP Rescue Services, told H&H.

    “We strongly encourage anyone considering towing for the first time to undertake trailer training similar to that which would have been required before a test.”

    Every provider H&H spoke to is continuing to offer training, to help drivers build confidence and improve road safety, and all called for some form of mandatory training and certification to replace the test.

    “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to what [the Government] thinks will solve the HGV driver crisis and they are not listening to the industry or safety bodies,” said Nick Martin, of Nick Martin’s Driving School.

    He pointed out that when the law changes, a new driver would be able to pass their test in a Mini, and legally get behind the wheel of a 4×4 towing a large trailer the next day.

    “It isn’t a good thing for road safety,” he said. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

    While the Government is encouraging drivers to undergo training, Mr Martin said unless this is compulsory, demand will fall.
    “Businesses that have always delivered that training will have to diversify to survive. If it isn’t viable, the businesses won’t be there to provide that,” he said.

    He explained driver training was shut down for months, owing to pandemic restrictions, putting pressure on many businesses’ finances. The industry then faced a huge backlog when lessons and tests re-started in April, which had other effects. For example, investment in fleets and increased hours to meet the surge in demand, and to rebuild after months of closure. When the Government scrapped the B+E test, this slashed many businesses’ projected incomes overnight.

    “They have done this with no thought or consideration to the industry,” he said, adding that he has “clawed back” two weeks of work from three months of bookings.

    “It’s unfair to close our industry down with a week’s notice, and it’s unfair on the customers I had booked, who needed to tow in October and now legally can’t.

    “It’s to no avail – they haven’t listened to the industry, the HGV test capacity has never been the issue; it’s the candidates they need to take those tests.”

    A DVSA update, dated 21 September, stated there were 316 unsold bus and lorry tests in the previous week.

    Busier roads

    The Road Haulage Association (RHA) expressed “serious concerns” about ending B+E testing to the Government weeks before the changes were announced.

    “Drivers will be a risk to themselves and all other road users if they have not been trained and required to reach a defined standard,” it added.

    The RHA suggested a solution, whereby authorised trainers should be allowed to conduct the test on behalf of the DVSA, which it states would be “simple, quicker and almost certainly less expensive for the consumer”.

    The idea of a certificate, proving to insurers that the holder has undergone towing training, has been mooted from several corners as a way of boosting safety. It has also been noted that vehicles and trainers are often booked weeks in advance for HGV training, meaning a sudden influx of available tests is not the answer.

    In 2019, there were over nine million more cars on British roads than when the towing test was introduced in 1997. The number of miles covered on British roads per year in that time frame, by all types of traffic, increased from 297.8 billion to 356.5 billion – a rise of 58.7 billion.

    Matt Price, of Matt Price Driver Training, is among those feeling a heavy impact from the decision to scrap the test. He also suggested certification as a way forward.

    “From a safety perspective, [scrapping the test] is a horrendous decision,” he said.

    The change means Mr Price is now offering more tailored training that can include navigating a person’s own yard, with their vehicle and trailer.

    “There are quite a number of people that have decided they do still want some kind of training,” he said. “When you are travelling something worth [a lot to you], the last thing they want to do is to go out, without any formal training, and get into a sticky situation.”

    MT Training Services owner Tony Collinson told H&H he was “flabbergasted” by the decision, and agreed some form of compulsory basic training and certification is urgently needed.

    He said his firm is continuing to offer training and it is notable that most drivers undertaking their “due diligence” are from the equestrian world.

    “The impact on road safety is going to be huge.The average B+E pass rate was around 60 to 70%, with training. Without training, that would have been massively reduced,” said Mr Collinson, adding that this will result in a huge increase in drivers towing trailers without the basic competency level.

    “When you are putting livestock in the back, there has to be some sort of welfare issue.”

    Responding to the concerns raised, a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) spokesman told H&H: “The decision to remove the requirement for car drivers to take a B+E test if they want to tow a trailer was subject to a public consultation exercise. The consultation received over 9,500 responses and most respondents supported the proposals.

    “The DVSA is exploring options for an industry-led accreditation that could offer a standardised non-statutory training approach. We have met with key stakeholders, including trainers and insurers, to discuss this issue. We have also met with horse associations, including the British Horse Society and British Animal Rescue and Trauma Association.”

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