Driving licences: Overseas drivers unable to comply with licence checking

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UK hauliers will be all too aware of the increasing shortage of British drivers qualified to drive vehicles and the current estimated shortfall of 45,000 drivers will only increase as more drivers retire.  There simply aren’t enough new drivers entering the profession to replace them: a state of affairs that puts the road-dependent UK economy in jeopardy.

As a direct consequence, many companies are looking to recruit drivers from elsewhere in the European Union in order to meet commercial demand.   This throws up an immediate challenge; how to check drivers’ entitlement to drive commercial vehicles. 

It is a criminal offence for employers to “cause” or “permit” an unlicensed driver to drive a vehicle.  The requirement to check drivers’ licences for validity and vocational entitlement is also embodied in other legislation and the wider duty of care owed to road users and the public generally. 

Checking a GB licence holder’s record either directly with the DVLA or through a managed service is fairly simple and provides definitive source information on validity, entitlement and previous record. However, there is no equivalent service for any other country in Europe.  So with no source data available for overseas drivers, what should an employer do and what are the alternatives?

Doing nothing is not an option and leaves operators wide open to prosecution and seriously damaging litigation. It could also invalidate any insurance cover. However, since it is not possible to check the licence holder’s details against source information, employers should at least inspect the physical document for obvious alterations. If there is a photo likeness does it match the person? It is also possible to check the features that should be present on an EEA driving licence using Technology also exists to perform an online check of a licence photo image or scan in real-time. This compares document layout, fonts and security features against official templates in real time and will flag any issues. 

The next step is to check that the driving licence proffered actually allows the employee to drive the intended vehicle on UK roads. It may seem obvious, but there are quite complex rules about the reciprocal recognition of driving qualifications for different countries, as well as different periods of continuing validity for overseas licences affected by where a vehicle is registered.  So the issuing country needs to be considered along with any expiry date on the document. Assuming it hasn’t expired, the employer should confirm category entitlement. If the driver is not authorised to drive a vehicle in the issuing country, they certainly cannot drive that vehicle on UK roads. A check can be made online using

If the driver’s licence is issued in the EEA and they are resident in the UK the licence remains valid for use in the UK (subject to age and medical checks) but they must have registered with the DVLA within 12 months of taking up residence.  Those drivers from countries where there is a reciprocal arrangement have 12 months to exchange their licence for a GB version.  In both cases it is good practice to make the driver complete and submit the necessary forms at the time they are hired, or provide evidence that they have done this already.

Finally, the employer should get the driver to sign a formal declaration confirming they are qualified to drive the vehicle and send them on an assessed journey to ensure that they prove competent behind the wheel. 

Given the constraints, it is difficult to see how any organisation taking such steps could fall below the expected standard of care.

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