There is a chronic shortage of drivers, and it is affecting every sector of our economy. There are currently hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions across Europe. The average age of a truck driver is 47, and it is approaching 50 for a coach driver. If this shortage isn’t addressed as a matter of urgency, the consequences for the economy will be devastating; many businesses are already reporting that they have had to turn away work, not due to low demand or other supply problems, but because they just can’t find drivers.
With this in mind, IRU - the world road transport organisation - organised an evening of dialogue between key European actors, including the director general of DG MOVE, MEPs from across the political spectrum, road hauliers, bus and coach operators, and representatives of the wider economy, from retail to those delivering vital chemicals.
If we wait any longer the driver shortage will become a driver crisis and disrupt supply chains and the economy of the European Union
Radu Dinescu IRU President
The message was resounding and came from every corner of Europe, from coach operators in Spain, to hauliers in Romania: action is needed and there is no time for delay.
“If we wait any longer the driver shortage will become a driver crisis and disrupt mobility and supply chains and the economy of the European Union,” said IRU President Radu Dinescu. “Everyone has a duty to prevent this, but we need support.”
“It looks like a ‘no brainer’, the level of youth unemployment in the EU is 14%, and yet there are plenty of jobs in road transport,” said Raluca Marian, IRU’s Director for EU Advocacy.
IRU has surveyed its members and found three areas that need to be addressed to turn this situation around: remove barriers to entry, improve difficult working conditions, and automation. Each of these areas is complex, but the evening revealed that there were concrete measures that could be taken.
“This year is the European Year of Youth and 2023 is the European Year of Skills. I’m confident that with the right vision and efforts at all levels we will manage to give our drivers the recognition they deserve as essential workers at the heart of the European economy,” said Henrik Hololei, DG MOVE Director General.
Theresa-Jasmin Meyering a young business owner
IRU selected five young drivers to tell their story of why they had chosen the profession and to talk about some of the challenges. For some, a career as a driver had not been presented as an option at college, for other young people, the cost of training or perceptions about the profession made them hesitate.
The upcoming review of the European Driving Licence Directive presented a new opportunity to streamline procedures and discuss lowering age limits
MEP Petar Vitanov confirmed, “There is a need to increase the attractiveness of the profession, remove barriers like high minimum age for obtaining licences across the EU, and make driving a dream job for young people”
Upcoming review of European Driving Licence Directive
The Director of the Czech Driver Affairs Department, Stanislav Dvořák, said the upcoming review of the European Driving Licence Directive presented a new opportunity to streamline procedures and discuss lowering age limits.
Leon Hermsen, one young driver (16)
The critical gap: ages 18 to 21
Speaker after speaker highlighted that there was no obvious reason why the minimum driving age shouldn’t be set at 18 across Europe. Aviation pilots can have a full licence at this age. Radu Dinescu said this delay was causing young drivers to choose other more easily accessible professions after leaving school at the age of 18.
“Under current rules, bus drivers under 21 can’t drive further than 50km (in a professional capacity), which is difficult in countries like Sweden,” said Anna Grönlund, Deputy Director General of the Swedish Bus and Coach Federation. She also presented a study indicating that there are no grounds for believing that younger drivers were more accident prone.
Companies have set ambitious targets to green their fleet. Jack Berringer, representing IKEA, said their target was to achieve zero emissions for the final mile of deliveries by 2025. However, electrically powered vehicles are heavier, meaning that someone holding a ‘B’ licence might be excluded from driving smaller delivery vehicles because it exceeds the current weight limits for that licence, further limiting who can be recruited. He called for changes to the directive to recognise this.
Conditions and treatment
MEPs raised particular concern about the conditions that drivers faced, particularly those involved in long haul transport. We have equally heard driver testimonials about the appalling treatment of drivers at loading and unloading points, without access to the most basic amenities.
The EU has committed significant funds to the development of more safe and secure truck parking areas, but so far there has been little uptake. It was suggested that the current co-financing levels could be increased to incentivise national administrations to make better use of the funds that are available.
Ismail Ertug, MEP, said the treatment of drivers is just as important: “They have to drive and then have to unload the goods, drivers need more care and respect for their work.”
Industry actors recognised that more could be done to help drivers balance their work and family life.
Automation and intelligent transport systems
Automation in vehicles offers a way to attract young people to the profession, improving safety and the driver experience. The certificate of professional competence that drivers have to take should be adapted to drivers’ needs and updated to incorporate these innovations in the training and development of future drivers.
All these measures would be welcomed, but there is still an immediate shortage of drivers. Business leaders called on the EU to facilitate the recognition of driving licences and of the qualifications of drivers from third countries to fill the immediate shortage of drivers.
The evening was an opportunity to raise a red flag and remind decision makers of what is at stake. While there is much to do, with a concerted effort from all actors, the crisis can be averted, and Europe can keep its goods and people moving.