How to become a HGV driver

Are you a fan of the open road and want to get paid while travelling? Learn how to become a HGV driver in this article.

We’ll cover everything you’ll need to get started in the transport industry and break down key safety and employment questions. We mainly focus on goods transport and driving lorries or trucks, but this article is still useful if you’re looking to begin a career as a bus and coach driver as they’re still classed as HGVs.

Discover our essential advice on areas including:

  • What you’ll need to get started
  • Safety checks on your vehicle and while driving
  • How to find haulage work
  • How to set up your new business legally
  • How to steer yourself to success with Countingup 

What you’ll need to get started

Before you get on the road, you’ll need to have a number of things like driving licences for specialised vehicles and insurance coverage. Below we’ve included an outline of the main things you’ll need regardless of whether you’re looking to become a self-employed HGV driver or join a larger firm full-time. 

Driver’s licence

Like learning to walk before you run, HGV drivers must be over 18 and need a full UK driving licence for category B vehicles (4-wheel cars) before they can begin training on heavy goods vehicles. In order to get your category B licence, you’ll need to complete the standard driving test by passing your tests for theory and practical ability.

Category C or D licence and Driver CPC qualification

Once you’ve passed your driving test and gotten your driving licence for category B vehicles, you’ll need to get a qualification called the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). This evidences your ability to drive larger vehicles like lorries or buses categorised as C and D by the DVLA. To do this, you’ll need to:

  • Apply for a provisional lorry or bus licence by ordering the forms from the DVLA
  • Pass the 4 tests of the Driver CPC by booking each here

The provisional licence has two parts: the D2 application and a D4 form that’s completed by a doctor (like a GP or optician for information about your eyesight).

For your CPC, you can take the theory and case studies assessments as soon as you’ve got your provisional licence for higher category vehicles. The theory test comes in two parts that must be booked separately but can be done on the same day. Like the theory test for your category B (car) licence, the theory test elements must be completed within 2 years of each other.

Similarly, the sub-tests aren’t sequential. You can take the case studies test (Part 2) before the theory test (Part 1), or take the Driving ability test (Part 3), as long as you’ve passed the theory test (Part 1).

Once you’ve passed your CPC

You’ll receive a CPC card (sometimes called a ‘driver qualification card’ or ‘DQC’) which you’ll need to keep on you at all times when driving. This includes during any future international travel you’ll make when driving goods between the UK and EEA countries.

You’ll also need to undertake 35 hours of training periodically every five years to stay qualified as a HGV driver. You can do this training across the five-year window, for example by completing seven hours each year. There is a different process for drivers living and working in Northern Ireland, therefore make sure you’re qualifying in your region. 

A heavy goods vehicle with a tachograph fitted

If you’re looking to become a self-employed haulier, you’ll need your own vehicle for future contracts. HGVs can be very expensive, so you may need to take out a business loan regardless of whether you buy a new or second-hand vehicle (we’ll cover how you can do this in a later section). As with cars, the typical markers of value like mileage, age and condition all apply, therefore, try to find a vehicle that is good value. 

Your HGV will almost certainly need to be fitted with a tachograph if you’ll be operating within the UK and the wider EU area. These are devices that track your driving hours, speed, etc. to make sure you’re complying with EU driving rules. Therefore, make sure your new vehicle is fitted with the correct one before buying. We’ll discuss the rules for HGV drivers more in a later section.

Finally, you’ll need to pay road tax on the vehicle you buy via filling in a V85 form and applying in-person at a Post Office that deals with vehicle tax. The specific price will depend on your vehicle’s tax band and whether it has road-friendly suspension. Knowing these costs might inform which vehicle you buy, so make sure you check beforehand to help minimise your costs when starting up. Use the Post Office’s online tool to find a branch near you that can handle vehicle tax.

HGV insurance

Just like regular motoring, HGV drivers need insurance. However, insurance rates for HGV drivers differ because of things like the greater amount of driving they do and the size of the vehicle itself. Typical industry policies include some of the following:

  • Road Risk Insurance 
  • ‘Goods-In-Transit’ Cover
  • Public Liability Cover
  • Free Attached and Detached Trailer Cover
  • Breakdown Assistance and European Cover

Insurers often consider newly-qualified drivers and those under 25 to be especially high-risk. You can reduce your insurance costs by having dashcams, telematic devices, a ‘no claims’ history and a safe driving record. Similarly, while not mandatory, insurers also like to see drivers with enhanced driving abilities. We discuss these more in the next section.

Documents necessary for international driving

Depending on your age, you may be able to take on international driving contracts for clients. In this case, you may also need:

  • A valid passport with more than 6 months remaining before expiry
  • Registration and insurance documents for your vehicle and the goods you’re transporting (including customs documents and your CPC card)
  • Certificates for specialist approvals the vehicle has (if relevant)
  • A goods vehicle operator licence disc

Some of the documents mentioned, like the customs papers, are handled by the business you’re working with, as the goods are their own exports. However, it can be useful to know about these processes to avoid being caught out between borders after having arrived. Similar documents will be needed if you’re a bus or coach driver transporting people. 

If you’re not yet able to transport goods internationally, you can focus on building up domestic driving experience within the UK.

Safety checks on your vehicle and while driving

There are various safety requirements for vehicles and their drivers while operating on UK roads. We discuss the essentials below and offer recommendations so you can get to driving safely and confidently.

Being ‘roadworthy’

Even if you have a current MOT, all UK vehicles must still be roadworthy. While the MOT standard establishes a minimum threshold for road-safe cars, damage or breakage can occur to vehicles in between checks that would render your vehicle unsafe. Given the potential for added danger when driving ‘unroadworthy’ HGVs, the UK Government has published guidance for hauliers on the daily checks they should complete before beginning a journey. 

You can also make sure your vehicle is safe to drive by consulting your vehicle handbook for maintenance and servicing schedules, and planning ahead for changes in weather conditions.

When can you use devices while driving?

As you’re driving, it’s critical not to handle your phone or sat nav as it could be a distraction. The Highway Code specifies you must use hands-free methods while on the road. These can include a bluetooth headset, voice commands and a secured mount that doesn’t block your road view (such as a cradle or dashboard mat). 

Importantly, these rules still apply if you’re stationary at traffic lights or in congestion, so be careful when and how you use any apps for navigation or communicating with clients.

Driving limits and breaks

As a HGV driver, there are limits on the amount of time you can drive each day, however there are some recognised exceptions. As a self-employed HGV driver, the limits and break requirements apply to when you’re driving and managing goods. Therefore, this excludes time spent in congestion, commuting to and from a regular place of work, like a depot, or time taking breaks.

When driving, EU rules cover most circumstances you’ll encounter, including driving around the UK, unless your vehicle is EU-rules exempt, in which case GB rules apply. EU rules specify a maximum of nine hours driving in a single day with allowances for up to 10 hours twice a week and no more than 56 hours in a single week. However, within any two consecutive weeks, you can’t exceed 90 hours of driving and all driving should be recorded on your vehicle’s tachograph.

How to find haulage work

Haulier work is available for self-employed drivers on various websites across the internet. 

You’ll be able to find routes and freight work in nearly any area across the UK transporting goods up and down the country. Some sites may use the term ‘Owner Driver’ to denote self-employed drivers with their own vehicles, so you should begin to learn some key industry terms to help you find jobs.

Things that might affect your routes

Recently, a number of UK council authorities have announced environmental measures to restrict the engine standard of vehicles entering into certain city and town limits. Currently, these measures vary between regions as some UK areas are yet to introduce them. 

If you encounter a category A Clean Air Zone, you won’t be allowed to drive your lorry or truck into the area. This is because these vehicles are category C/C1 according to the DVLA; however, if you’ve trained to drive buses (or category D vehicles), you will be allowed into all Clean Air Zones. If your vehicle is affected, you should be aware of these emerging restrictions and plan your route accordingly to accommodate them.

How to set up legally and declare your new income

As a HGV driver, your work comes from self-employment, similar to freelancing. For this reason, you’ll need to declare your new income to HMRC and return a Self Assessment to pay your taxes.

One of the faster ways of doing this is by becoming a sole trader; however, there are different ways you can manage your business’ finances, like setting up a limited company. We discuss the pros and cons in our article Sole trader vs Limited company? For the rest of the article, we’ll talk about operating as a sole trader as it’s the more common option, but know there are alternatives available to you. 

What is a sole trader?

Sole traders are one way in which HMRC categorises self-employed people. Sole traders are allowed to keep all the profits they’ve earned after taxes but are also personally responsible for any debts their business undertakes. 

Because of this, your personal and professional finances are intertwined. This means you’ll be responsible for providing any tools or equipment you need to run your business (like your vehicle, insurance costs, MOT and servicing, etc.). If you choose to buy any additional materials for your work, you can expense them in your accounting, (but only for the proportion of usage that is for your business). 

For example, if you buy a laptop to stream films, buy clothes and manage spreadsheets for your business, you can only claim to cover the usage directly linked to running your business (managing spreadsheets).

What you’ll need to keep records of

Like many businesses, you’ll need to keep records of your finances, but being a sole trader means your admin is a little lighter. You’ll need to keep records of:

  • The income and expenses of your business
  • Records about any additional income you have from other employment
  • Grant money you may have received in 2020-2021 if you claimed through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme because of Covid-19

Over the next few years, sole traders are expected to transition to digital bookkeeping through HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative. This is a new method for business accounting and a new era for tax collection. Businesses can now – and will soon be expected to – record and manage their finances using completely MTD-compliant accounting software.

This is where software like Countingup comes in. Read on to find out how you can run your business with it below.

Save time on frustrating financial admin

Countingup is the business current account with free, built-in MTD compatible accounting software. It automates the time-consuming aspects of bookkeeping and you can use it to manage your business finances more efficiently.

Countingup offers real-time profit and loss statements, handy expense reminders and a receipt capture tool. They work together to help make sure your accounts are always up to date and accurate. If you’re new to self-employed bookkeeping, you can also take advantage of the tax estimates so you can set aside enough and stay tax compliant with HMRC.

Gain complete confidence in your bookkeeping and make your HGV business a success. Find out more here and sign up for free today.