A freedom of information (FOI) request by Unite, the UK’s leading union, has revealed that ill health and illness is a major factor in the increasing shortage of lorry drivers.

Freedom of Information

The FOI to the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Association (DVLA) has revealed that within a decade the number of lorry and bus drivers who are having their licence refused or revoked for medical issues has more than doubled.

In 2005 a total of 4,583 drivers had their licence refused or revoked. By 2018 this number had increased to 12,242. The figure for 2020 was 7,209. However, the requirement for drivers to undergo a medical assessment in order to continue driving was suspended from March 2020 to January 2021 due to the pandemic. In order to secure a 12 month extension, drivers had to instead self-certify they were in good health.

Underlying condition

In some cases the affected driver will be able to have their licence returned if a medical condition is short-term and can be corrected. But in many cases there is an underlying condition that means that a licence cannot be returned and the driver is forced out of the industry.

The cumulative effect means that there are thousands of experienced drivers now barred from driving due to ill health which is exacerbating the current driver shortage.

Aging workforce

The rise in drivers losing their licence for medical reasons is clearly linked to the increasing age of drivers. Research by UK Logistics shows that in 2020 the average age of HGV drivers was 49.6 years, while in 2018 the average age was nearly two years younger at 47.9 years.

The nature of the industry also greatly contributes to the ill health of drivers, who work long hours and have irregular shifts. It is a predominantly sedentary occupation and a lack of access to healthy nutrition leads to drivers often eating unhealthy food.

Health issues

This leads to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which can then lead to further medical conditions that mean a driver loses their licence.

In 2019 a survey of Unite lorry drivers found that 74.3 per cent said that a long hours culture in their industry had affected their physical health.

While the primary focus has been on a shortage of lorry drivers, there is also a shortage of bus drivers with some companies being forced to cancel and suspend services.

Alarming figures 

Unite national officer Adrian Jones said: “These figures are alarming but unsurprising.

 “What they demonstrate is that drivers are being forced out of the industry due to ill health and this is making the driver shortages even worse.

 “This is a problem of the employers making – forcing their workforces to work long hours in unhealthy environments is going to have major health implications.

 “These problems are only going to get worse as the average age of the driving workforce increases.

 “It is essential that not only is pay improved but that conditions for drivers are made more palatable, so that they can access more nutritious food and that the long hours culture, which also leads to a chronic lack of sleep, is tackled.

 “What is certain is that the relaxation in the driving hours that is resulting in already exhausted workers operating for longer is making a bad situation worse and will have long-term health implications.”


 During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.