Last reviewed 23 November 2023

A 2021 Welsh Government study into the experiences of drivers of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) found that many described feeling isolated with high levels of stress due to the burden of sole responsibility, where blame is put on the shoulders of drivers by their employers, regulators and the public.

Research by TRL, a subsidiary of the Transport Research Foundation (TRF), published in 2023, revealed that driver fatigue occurs despite the limits imposed by the current EU and GB drivers’ hours regulations, suggesting that they may not be fully effective at eliminating fatigue and fatigue-related incidents. This article will examine why driving time and other factors contribute to feelings of stress in professional drivers and will examine what is being done, or recommended, to try to alleviate this problem.

Mental health

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress, depression or anxiety is now the number one cause of work-related ill-health in Great Britain. Within the transportation and storage sector as a whole (which includes road haulage), around four in 10 cases of work-related ill-health are due to stress, depression or anxiety. The HSE quotes concerns expressed about the welfare of her fellow workers by Michelle Upson, a lorry driver who has been in the industry for more than 30 years. She said: “I’d say there is a mental health problem in the industry. Especially for the guys on the road all week and without their families — it is a lot tougher for them. Most of the workforce is men and the age demographic is still high.” And a major problem, she went on, is that they are less likely to talk about their mental health problems.

Causes of stress

Long hours away from home, demanding delivery times and limited access to toilets and showers are common causes of stress for drivers. They also mention being on the receiving end, daily, of the general public’s hostility and impatience and long queues at ports in the aftermath of Brexit. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) has warned that, without action to make the profession more accessible and attractive, Europe could lack over two million drivers by 2026, which will impact half of all freight movements and millions of passenger journeys. Security, particularly for women drivers, is crucial to make the profession more attractive, it highlighted, with 95% of truck drivers and 94% of transport companies putting it as their top priority. Yet only 3% of existing EU truck parking places are certified as secure.

The situation is no better in the UK. The National Survey of Lorry Parking 2022 examined lorry parking within five kilometres of the strategic road network (SRN) in England and found that provision of lorry parking at on-site facilities was nearly at critical level, having reached 83% utilisation level across the network. The situation was worse in the East of England (95%) and the South East (94%).

A total of 4396 on-site and off-site lorry parking locations were audited. This includes 328 on-site facilities, 827 industrial estates and 3241 lay-bys. Whilst on-site locations form only 7% of the total number of locations audited, they provide, the DfT notes, the on-site facilities that support essential driver welfare and, ultimately, safety. However, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) reacted to the report by highlighting the estimated shortage of 11,000 safe and secure lorry parking spaces and urged Ministers to go further to help developers build much-needed new truck stops.

Long hours made worse

A DfT study into HGV driver recruitment and retention (see here), highlights that one of the most important barriers to both recruitment and retention of HGV drivers is the requirement for them to work long shifts (such as 12 to 14 hours), night shifts, irregular and unsociable hours and 41 to 60 hours or more per week. Moreover, drivers felt that the issue of long, unpredictable hours was exacerbated by manipulative actions of their employers and/or delivery sites.

For example, to circumvent the Working Time Directive legislation that limits working hours to no more than a 48-hour week averaged over a 17-week block, drivers in the Welsh Parliament study mentioned above reported being pushed by their employer to work 60-hour weeks, then being stood down or given shorter runs towards the end of the block to bring the average back down to the legal limit. This study also mentioned another issue with regard to driving time with a lack of available parking meaning that drivers are sometimes forced to drive over the legal time limits to reach the next facility where they can park, which can mean that they incur a fine. Adding to the feelings of stress, are their concerns about the lack of safety of overnight parking, with the fear of theft and violence affecting drivers’ levels of stress and ability to sleep overnight.

“Facilities for HGV drivers are very substandard,” one haulier told the Motorway Services User Survey 2022 conducted by Transport Focus. “It is expensive to park overnight and you have a very good chance of waking up the next morning to either diesel theft or load theft.” Three-quarters of total cargo theft across the world involves vehicles in transit according to 2021 analysis by international transport and logistics insurer, TT Club. It points to the lack of secure parking and the use of soft-sided trailers, with thieves regularly targeting these vehicles that were parked in insecure areas.

All in the mind

HSE was cited earlier as explaining the extent of stress in the industry and it has made moves recently to try to offset some of the problems. Its Working Minds campaign, supported by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), targets HGV drivers and their bosses to promote good mental health whilst at work. When safe to do so, drivers are invited to text “BeAMate” for free confidential health support 24/7 — a service provided by another Working Minds campaign partner, Mates in Mind. Elizabeth Goodwill, from the HSE’s Stress and Mental Health Policy Team said: “HGV drivers keep the country and our economy moving. It’s therefore vital employers meet their legal duty to ensure risks of stress and mental ill health are factored into risk assessments.”

As driver Michelle Upson mentioned above, men may be particularly unwilling to discuss their mental health and the HSE has recognised this by developing a Talking Toolkit to help employers and managers structure these potentially difficult conversations. Available here, this aims to provide support with managing mental health at work.

In addition, the Government’s Access to Work scheme, aims to help people to get or stay in work if they have a physical or mental health condition or disability. Support to manage mental health at work might include: a tailored plan to help get or stay in work; or one-to-one sessions with a mental health professional.

Safer parking

Whatever steps are taken to try to deal with the effects of stress on drivers, however, it is clear that providing clean and safe places to park would go a long way to helping to prevent the problem arising in the first place. The Government seems to have taken this idea on board and has recently announced that lorry drivers across England will benefit from better roadside facilities, more secure parking and improved rest areas thanks to £8 million in new funding. A total of 39 roadside facility operators across the country will each receive a share of the money being made available by the DfT and a further £11 million from industry to significantly upgrade truck stops for lorry drivers.

The improvements will see improvements in welfare facilities including showers, rest areas and restaurants, and will increase heavy goods vehicle (HGV) parking capacity while improving security for drivers. Roads Minister Richard Holden said: “Day and night, our lorry drivers and hauliers work tirelessly to deliver essential food, goods and medical supplies up and down the country. As we continue supporting the haulage sector in playing its crucial role in helping to grow the economy, these first winners will help ensure lorry drivers have great facilities where they can safely park, sleep and rest.”

A full list of the grant scheme round one winners can be found here. They include Scunthorpe Truck Stop, Stop 24 Folkestone Services, Sittingbourne Logistics Park, Immingham Lorry Park, Swindon Truckstop and Glews Services near Goole, East Yorkshire.

What drivers need

The answers to the problems outlined in this article are not hard to find. Indeed many of them are outlined in a video produced by the DfT to help developers and operators of roadside HGV parking and driver welfare facilities to submit high quality planning applications. Available here, this explains that drivers deserve: a safe place to park; on level ground; in well-marked bays; with good lighting; and with appropriate security measures in place. They should also be provided with high quality facilities including: a warm welcome; clean toilet and washing facilities; something good to eat; and reliable Wi-Fi.

Many of the same points are emphasised in a drivers’ charter prepared by the FTA and which can be found at here