5.4.2023 | Haulage

Driver shortages, will driver training reform help?

The government has opened a consultation on proposals for reform of the Driver CPC (DCPC) qualification following a review of the scheme in response to the driver shortage.

Tim Ridyard, Ashtons Legals’ Partner, gives his insight into the changes to the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (DCPC) regime that have been announced. These are proposals at this stage and subject to a Department for Transport consultation that started on 2 March 2023 and runs until 27 April.

As we know, drivers have to complete 35 hours of periodic training every five years to be allowed to retain their DCPC qualification, after initial qualification. Not all commercial driving activities mean drivers must have Driver CPC, as there are various exceptions. But most vocational drivers will likely work ‘in-scope’ of the need for Driver CPC. A not insignificant DCPC training industry is now well-established, based on the current requirements. Frustrations about the rigidity, effectiveness and inflexibility of the scheme have always been voiced, though it would appear the concept that drivers should have ongoing training is widely accepted.

The trigger for reform and DCPC review started in November 2021 through to January 2022 on the back of acute driver shortages and a plethora of other government initiatives to address this. Amongst these other steps, there was a review of DCPC. This looked at various issues, such as the extent to which this was a barrier for drivers to get into or return to the road transport sector.

The outcome was that, generally, DCPC was supported by the sector, but a need for changes was identified. Of concern was the need for flexibility in how and in what way DCPC could be maintained by vocational drivers every five years and how returning drivers could be attracted back. Cost and time of training were also key issues.

It should be stressed that the intended changes proposed in the new consultation do not apply to drivers who are obtaining their initial Driver CPC qualification – rather, it applies to those, a) who are renewing their Driver CPC periodically or b) they are regaining their Driver CPC after it has lapsed i.e. where they have been outside of the sector in activities requiring DCPC.

If implemented, the ideas in the consultation would lead to a National DCPC (N-DCPC) – this would a reformed DCPC with different routes to retaining it. International DCPC (I-DCPC) would be a new term for the existing qualification that would not be and cannot not be, reformed. Therefore, these changes relate to the majority of drivers who do not drive outside the UK/GB.

Under the proposed future regime, when a driver achieved his or her initial qualification, nothing will change – drivers will have I-DCPC  for 5 years. Once the 5 years lapses, drivers can continue to keep I-DCPC (meaning they can drive domestically or internationally where DCPC is required) or can have different routes to National DCPC, meaning that they cannot drive internationally on journeys requiring DCPC. As most drivers only drive in GB/UK, this initiative has been deemed worth pursuing

The plan is for there to be two options for a driver to continue to retain National DCPC. There would be the possibility to undertake a periodic test instead of having no other current option than to undertake 35 hours’ training in 5-year cycles. The proposal is that this would be a 50-question multiple-choice test. It would take 60 to 90 minutes. It will be possible to re-sit or switch the DCPC training route. DVSA would develop this.

The Department for Transport anticipates test fees of max £70, with the testing process lasting one to one-and-a-half hours. This would be for drivers renewing their Driver CPC or regaining it, after a break. If a pass were achieved there will be a National DCPC qualification, but any failure will mean drivers cannot drive until the lapse of the current CPC.

Returning drivers: there will be drivers whose DCPC has lapsed, for whatever reason. Where a driver had allowed his or her DCPC qualification to expire for more than two months and less than two years (the proposed criterion), there would be a route to regain the qualification in a streamlined way. The proposal is that this either be via periodic testing (as explained above) or via ‘return to driving training’, with the training anticipated to take seven hours.

Generally, there are proposed changes to training for N-DCPC. There would be no minimum length training modules or them having to be done within two days. One could have shorter courses to make up the 35 hours required, rather than 5 x 7 hours. The same amount of training would be retained. (This does not count toward I-DCPC, where you will continue to have to for 35 hours as now within 5 years in 7-hour modules.)

The consultation suggests provisions in other respects to protect the driver pool and create greater flexibility. One is to exempt DCPC on a short-term basis if there are emergencies or where needs otherwise dictate. There is the suggestion of a scheme for the recognition of qualifications similar to DCPC attained outside the UK. Finally, electronic DCPCs are under consideration – the aim here is to have an electronic marker of flags on driver records to remove the need for drivers to physically carry National DCPC cards.