FOI request reveals UK is losing lorry drivers over health issues

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The Unite trade union has concluded that Ill health is an important factor in the increasing shortage of lorry drivers in the UK, a claim that is based on data obtained from a freedom of information (FOI) request. According to the figures, the number of lorry and bus drivers whose licence was refused or revoked for medical issues has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

FOI request reveals UK is losing lorry drivers over health issues
Unite’s FOI request, which was submitted to the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Association (DVLA), concerned the number of lorry and bus drivers whose licence was refused or revoked due to medical issues in the last decade. The answer revealed that this number has more than doubled.

In 2005 a total of 4,583 drivers had their licence refused or revoked. By 2018 this number had increased to 12,242. The figure for 2020 was 7,209.

However, the requirement for drivers to undergo a medical assessment in order to continue driving was suspended from March 2020 to January 2021 due to the pandemic. In order to secure a 12-month extension, drivers had to instead self-certify they were in good health.

In some cases, the affected driver will be able to have their licence returned if a medical condition is short-term and can be corrected. But in many cases, there is an underlying condition that means that a licence cannot be returned and the driver is forced out of the industry.

The cumulative effect means that there are thousands of experienced drivers now barred from driving due to ill health, which is of course exacerbating the current driver shortage.

Aging workforce

The rise in drivers losing their licence for medical reasons is clearly linked to the increasing age of drivers. Research by Logistics UK shows that in 2020 the average age of HGV drivers was 49.6 years, while in 2018 the average age was nearly two years younger at 47.9 years.

The nature of the industry also contributes to the ill health of drivers, who work long hours and have irregular shifts. It is a predominantly sedentary occupation and a lack of access to healthy nutrition leads to drivers often eating unhealthy food.

Health issues

This, in turn, leads to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which can then result in  further medical conditions that mean a driver loses their licence.

In 2019, a survey conducted by Unite found that 74.3% of drivers thought long-hours culture in their industry had affected their physical health.

While the primary focus has been on a shortage of lorry drivers, there is also a shortage of bus drivers with some companies being forced to cancel and suspend services.

Food for thought?

Given the statistics referred to above, it is clear that the health and welfare of drivers is something that the authorities and the road transport industry should be looking into. If the situation continues, it would appear that absenteeism and driver shortages shall only get worse.

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