Denise Langhor is calling for a rethink on plans to streamline the HGV driving tests (Photos: Denise Langhor / Getty)
An emergency department doctor whose father was killed by a reversing HGV driver has raised concerns about government changes to ease pressure across the haulage industry.
Denise Langhor’s father, Lou Langhor, was killed instantly from massive head and chest injuries when he was driving home from work in October 2013.
The government announced in September that it has devised a ‘comprehensive package’ to tackle HGV driver shortages including 50,000 more HGV driving tests available through a change in legislation.
HGV driver test changes
In a bid to ‘streamline the process’, HGV driving tests will be overhauled and made shorter.
The reversing exercise element and ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercise for vehicles with trailers will be removed and conducted separately by a third party.
The new legislation is changing previous EU regulations which, following Brexit, the UK is no longer obliged to use.
Issues to be raised with Transport Secretary
Wirral West Labour MP Margaret Greenwood will be raising the issue with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps after Dr Langhor contacted her with concerns.
In July the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the temporary relaxation of EU rules so that the daily hours limit of HGV drivers could be increased from nine to 10 hours up to four times in a week.
Drivers are also allowed to have an alternative pattern of weekly rest periods.
A DfT spokesperson said the situation was under ‘constant review’.
Dr Langhor, who lives on the Wirral, told LiverpoolWorld: “There are serious concerns that standards will fall in an attempt to rush through newly qualified drivers.
“There has been little information on how current competence standards will be maintained through the new testing process.”
Fatal HGV crash
“We were told by police my dad was travelling at approximately 50mph, well under the speed limit, when he collided with an HGV which was vertical across the road,” Dr Langhor, who works in the North West, explained.
“He had not seen the HGV.
“Car drivers travelling behind my father witnessed the impact but stated that they had not seen the HGV either.”
“It transpired that what had happened was that the driver of the HGV was running late on his journey and had missed his exit from the A road.
“Rather than taking the next exit and finding a safe route back in the other direction, he elected to use the next turnoff to reverse into to facilitate a turn in the road.”
She said as her father approached the HGV, the cab was on the opposite side of the road and looked like an oncoming vehicle in the correct lane. The rest of the lorry was obstructing the road.
The doctor’s father, a warehouse security officer, was travelling back to the North West from the Midlands.
“This type of manoeuvre on such a fast, unlit road would have been dangerous for a car to undertake, for an HGV driver to attempt it was quite unbelievable,” said Dr Langhor.
“The manoeuvre took considerable time due to the complexities of reversing such a large vehicle and created an obstruction across the road.”
She added: “The lack of street lighting meant that by the time my father’s headlights would have picked up the obstruction, he did not have time to stop.”
“The HGV driver that day set out simply to do his job. He certainly had no intention of harming anyone.
“He was a young man in his 30s, was licensed to do the job, was within his safe timed driving limits, was not drunk and had no previous motoring offences.
“He made an error of judgement that cost my father his life and cost him his livelihood.
“The Crown Prosecution Service decided to press charges and he was charged with causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to jail time.
“That simple error of judgement ruined his life as well as our family’s.”
Concern over new testing standards
“Testing standards must be robust to ensure that the safety of both the HGV drivers and other road users is maintained.
“The driver that caused the collision with my father was trained to do his job yet still caused a crash when reversing his vehicle unsafely.
“If the testing mechanisms are changed, the government must give assurances that the highest standards are upheld for this highly skilled job.”
Dr Langhor called on the government to look at the pay, terms and conditions for HGV drivers.
“Lowering safety standards cannot be the default solution, instead, increasing employment terms for the workforce would surely have a much longer lasting effect,” she said.
What are the proposed government changes?
- HGV drivers will only need to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than having to take two separate tests (spaced 3 weeks apart). According to the DfT, this will make around 20,000 more HGV driving tests available every year and mean drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly.
- Tests will also be made shorter by removing the ‘reversing exercise’ element – and for vehicles with trailers, the ‘uncoupling and recoupling’ exercise – and having it tested separately by a third party.
- The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) will allow training organisations to carry out ‘off-road’ exercises such as reversing into a bay.
- Car drivers will no longer need to take another test to tow a trailer or caravan, allowing roughly 30,000 more HGV driving tests to be conducted every year.
Wirral West Labour MP Margaret Greenwood said: “It’s a matter of very real concern that the government has decided to take the reversing test element of the HGV test away from the DVSA and give it to a third-party organisation.
“It is vital that the highest training and testing standards are upheld and the government must set out how it is going to deliver this.
“The government must make sure that there is no reduction in safety standards and that road safety is in no way compromised.”
Unite, which represents over 50,000 lorry drivers, has criticised any ‘watering down of standards’ which could compromise road safety.
Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “Our worry is that we will only know when it’s too late.
“With an articulated vehicle the reversing skills required are obviously very important to the safety of other road users and workers at stores and distribution centres.
“Lorries are reversed onto loading bays, not driven forwards. We should be looking to upskill drivers not deskill them."
RoadPeace Chief Executive, Nick Simmons, said: “As the national charity for road crash victims, RoadPeace would strongly contest any plan to reduce the standard of HGV tests.
“Many of our members have had traumatic personal experiences when drivers have failed to operate these vehicles correctly and would not want to see anyone else suffer in the way they have due to a road crash.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “We’ve taken immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers. We’re streamlining the testing process, removing the ‘reversing exercise’ element and having it tested by carefully selected and fully qualified third parties.
“These new measures will allow drivers to gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly, without reducing the rigour of the test.
“It is extremely important that drivers are tested to the highest standards before they are given HGV licences.”