Official figures show that HGV driver numbers fell by 53,000 in the UK over the last four years.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), that equates to a 17% drop in the number of lorry drivers to reach 268,000 currently.
That’s for the year to June, while the peak for lorry driver numbers was in 2016-17 when there were 321,000 drivers.
However, industry figures say that the shortage of drivers is much higher at more than 90,000.
Largest fall in lorry drivers
The ONS figures highlight that the largest fall in lorry drivers was among middle-aged hauliers.
The survey says this fall is down to an ageing workforce with drivers retiring, EU nationals returning home as well as increasing red tape and costs.
The figures reveal that there are 29% fewer lorry drivers aged between 46 and 54 working in the UK than in June 2017.
That’s a fall of 34,000 drivers and nearly one in three hauliers are aged over 56.
For those aged between 19 and 35, they account for less than 20% of total driver numbers.
Drop in driver numbers
The drop in driver numbers has been seen mostly in the last two years, and that includes the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That led to EU drivers returning home and then being reluctant to return to the UK.
However, there are 52,000 vacancies in the storage and transport sectors – that’s up by 49%, compared with pre-pandemic levels.
Businesses and retailers have been experiencing issues with a lack of drivers – from struggling to fill supermarket shelves, to recent problems with fuel stations.
Hauliers are finding the situation ‘challenging’
The news comes as the director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Duncan Buchanan told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee that hauliers are finding the current situation ‘challenging’.
He told MPs that the shortage of lorry drivers was leading to ‘frustration and delays’.
He added that RHA members say things ‘are not getting any better’ at this stage.
The RHA also highlights that HGV driver wages have risen by between 10% and 20% over the last six months – depending on the sector and location of the business.
Increase the number of lorry drivers
Among the decisions announced by the government to increase the number of lorry drivers was for more driving tests and help with training.
They also revealed last week a change to the cabotage rules that will enable foreign lorry drivers to make an unlimited number of drop-offs and pick-ups to help the supply chain disruption.
There’s also plans in place to hand out 5,000 three-month visas for lorry drivers coming from outside of the UK.
However, the RHA says the cabotage rule change will see wages being suppressed which have been increasing recently.
The RHA says it is disappointed and shocked by government proposals for changing cabotage rules because they say there are ‘more effective measures’ available.
The RHA’s Rod McKenzie said: “This proposal undermines the good work done already on training, the testing of drivers and the improved pay and conditions we have started to see for drivers.”