The government has announced it will scrap towing tests for drivers as it struggles to deal with the ongoing lorry driver shortage. By doing away with the tests, which assessed drivers’ competence with a trailer or caravan, the Department for Transport (DfT) hopes to free up 30,000 HGV test slots every year.

Under current rules, anyone who passed their driving test after January 1, 1997 needs to take a test before being allowed to tow heavier trailers. Although the rules are slightly different depending on when you passed your test, tests are generally necessary for drivers who passed in or after 1997 and want to tow a trailer weighing more than 750 kg.

However, when the law is changed this autumn, drivers will automatically be able to tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500 kg no matter when they passed their test. Drivers’ photocard licences will be updated with the change automatically at their next renewal date, but motorists will be able to exercise the newfound privileges of the licence later this year.

Hooking up the caravan ready for towing

The news comes amid a shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers that’s causing problems in the UK supply chain. However, changes to the private motorists’ towing rules are just a small part of the changes introduced by the government.

At the same time, the DfT also announced changes to the testing process, with drivers needing to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than taking two separate tests three weeks apart. This, the DfT claims, will make around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year and allow new drivers to get qualified and enter the industry more quickly.

Volkswagen ID.4 towing

Similarly, tests will also be made shorter by removing the ‘reversing exercise’ part – and for vehicles with trailers, the ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercise – and having it tested separately. Because this part of the test is already carried out off-road in a manoeuvring area, it can soak up examiners’ time. Testing such manoeuvres separately will free up examiner time, meaning they can carry out another full test every day.

“From Inverness to St Ives, HGV drivers are helping to keep the country running, and have been throughout the pandemic,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “The shortage of drivers is a global problem, but we’ve been taking action here in the UK to help industry leaders attract drivers and build a more resilient sector.

“We’ve already delivered 50 percent more tests than were available before the pandemic, but today’s additional measures will deliver up to 50,000 more a year, helping more and more people to kick start their career as a well-paid HGV driver.”