How is COVID-19 affecting delivery drivers?

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John Perry, executive director at SCALA

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has transformed operations across a number of sectors, with the way many currently work barely recognisable from just a few short weeks ago.

While the day-to-day role of delivery drivers, classed as essential workers to the coronavirus response, has remained largely unchanged on the surface, the ongoing pandemic has necessitated some temporary changes, which affect the ways in which many drivers go about their role.

But what are these changes, and how do they affect drivers?

Arguably the most noticeable step-change occurred on March 20, when the Department for Transport (DfT) announced a temporary and limited relaxation of the enforcement of drivers' hours rules in England, Scotland, and Wales

This applies to the drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of essential goods, such as food, personal care and pharmaceutical products (since extended to all drivers).

This measure has so far been useful in providing additional flexibility, but because of factors such as current ready availability of drivers, the temporary lifting of some delivery restrictions and reduced traffic delays, the industry has been able to keep these additional hours to minimal levels so far.

If things should change and businesses look to take advantage of the relaxation, the department did make the caveat that driver safety must not be compromised as a result of this temporary rule change.

Subsequently, while extended hours may be temporarily necessary for some, this should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and only implemented where truly necessary.

Through a combination of school closures and employees working remotely, rather than commuting to and from the office each day, traffic on the roads has also been significantly reduced, which is likely to have had a significant impact on deliveries.  

Indeed, national data from earlier this month shows that road travel has fallen by as much as 73% during the pandemic, bringing road traffic down to levels not seen since the 1950s.

While these same figures showed that the number of HGVs on the roads has reduced by 40%, the vastly reduced traffic will potentially greatly reduce journey times for those vehicles that remain, allowing drivers to complete more deliveries each shift and subsequently increasing productivity-per-vehicle over the coming months.

Finally, there are some temporary exemptions to be aware of. Usually, many lorry and bus drivers are required to complete 35 hours of training every five years to maintain a Driver CPC card. This has, however, been temporarily amended to allow drivers whose Driver CPC card expires in the period from March 1 to September 30, 2020 to continue driving.

MOTs for all heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and public service vehicles (PSVs) were also officially suspended for three months as of March 21, as part of the measures against the pandemic, making vehicles due an MOT exempt from testing for this time period.

While this applies to most HGVs automatically, there are some vehicles that may need to be applied for manually, such as those still awaiting their first MOT – full details of which vehicles may need additional attention can be found on GOV.UK.

Short-term, this means that many vehicles can continue to operate as normal for the next few months, provided their vehicle is still roadworthy and safe to drive, with garages still open for essential repair work as needed.

Once we begin to emerge from these exceptional times in – hopefully – a few months time, the effects of this exemption period are likely to make themselves more apparent.

Specifically, a substantial backlog of vehicles with MOT dates from the exemption period will now need to be tested, raising questions as to whether there are enough testers available to service this projected spike in demand.

This could in turn create a shortage of roadworthy vehicles further down the line, meaning that we may see measures such as a further 12-month MOT extension, or a nationwide upskilling programme to create more certified MOT testers, implemented to help clear the backlog.

Overall, the coming months are likely to be challenging for delivery drivers; many of whom are being relied upon to keep the country running amidst fluctuating consumer demand. However, if delivery drivers and firms remain abreast of the changes the coming weeks bring – many of which will not affect their role greatly, all being well – they will be well-placed to weather the storm of COVID-19 and thrive in the months to come.

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