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How to get your HGV licence

If you’re thinking of driving a heavy goods vehicle for your career, you’ll need to get a new licence.

HGV against a blue sky with some cloud

There’s a huge shortage of HGV drivers in the UK at the moment, with the Road Haulage Association saying that 100,000 more are needed.

So if you get your HGV licence now you should be in high demand in the jobs market.

To get that in-demand licence you’ll need to take the four-part Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) test.

You’ll also need to do the CPC if you want to be a bus driver or a coach driver.


Getting a provisional HGV licence

Before you apply for the CPC you’ll need to get your HGV provisional licence. To apply for one of these you’ll need to be over 18 and already have a full car licence.

There are different types of van licence depending on the size and type of the vehicle you want to drive.

Once you’ve decided on the type of licence you need, you can order the D2 and D4 forms from the DVLA.

The D2 is the application form for the licence. The D4 needs to be filled out by your GP or a private firm that specialises in medical exams for drivers.

An optician might need to fill in the section about your eyesight.

If you’re an insulin-dependent diabetic you’ll have to prove you’ve got good control to be considered for a HGV licence. You’ll also have to have annual medical checks.

Other medical conditions might also need to be declared to the DVLA.

Once the forms are completed, you send them to the DVLA. There’s no application fee.

It should take around three weeks to get your provisional licence. But there’ve been some well-publicised delays at the DVLA recently. So, it’s likely to take longer than that.


What does the CPC test involve?

When you get your hands on your provisional licence you can apply for the CPC test.

The test consists of four parts:

  • Theory
  • Case studies
  • Driving ability
  • Practical.

You’ll need to pass all of these to get the full CPC unless you have “acquired rights” because of your existing driving experience.


Do I need to do the full HGV test?

If you drive for a living you’ll need to do the full CPC. But if you use your lorry for a hobby or to carry passengers or goods non-commercially, you’ll only need to pass the theory and driving ability parts.

The GOV.UK site has the full list of exemptions from needing the full CPC and can help answer any other questions about getting an HGV driving licence.


What ID do I need for the CPC tests?

You’ll need to take some form of ID to each of the tests. This must be one of the following:

  • A Great Britain photocard driving licence
  • A Northern Ireland photocard driving licence and paper counterpart
  • An EU photocard driving licence and paper counterpart, if you have one.

If you don’t have a photocard driving licence you’ll need your paper licence and a valid passport.


Driver CPC part 1 test: theory

There are two parts to this – multiple choice and hazard perception.

The tests are booked separately but you can complete them on the same day. You’ll need to pass both of them within two years to get your theory certificate.


Multiple choice

You get 1 hour and 55 minutes to answer 100 multiple choice questions. The pass mark is 85/100.


Hazard perception

Here, you have 19 videos to watch. Each of them has 20 developing hazards that you need to spot. The pass mark this time is 67/100.

When you’ve passed both parts you’ll receive a certificate. You’ll need this when you book your part 3 driving test.

The certificate is valid for two years from when you passed the first part of your test.


Driver CPC part 2 test: case studies

You can book this as soon as you’ve got your provisional licence through. But if you’re not going to be driving HGVs for a living you won’t need to take this part of the test.

This assessment contains seven case studies based on situations you’re likely to come across while driving a large vehicle. You can find practice tests for this module free online.

You’ll get 1 hour and 15 minutes to answer six to eight multiple choice questions on each case study. The pass mark is 40/50.

Your pass letter should contain a reference number that you’ll need to book part 4 of the CPC. The pass letter is valid for two years.


Driver CPC part 3 test: driving ability

You’ll have to take this part of the test whether you’re going to be driving recreationally or for a living.

As well as the relevant documents you must turn up with a lorry, bus or coach that conforms to the DVLA’s standards.

The practical test lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes. It includes:

  • Vehicle safety questions
  • Practical road driving
  • Off-road exercises.


Vehicle safety questions

Like a car driving test, you’ll be asked some ‘show me, tell me’ questions such as:

  • Show me what instrument checks you’d make before and after starting the engine on this vehicle.
  • Tell me how you would check the condition of the body is safe on this vehicle.

GOV.UK has a full list of the questions.


Practical road driving

During your practical driving test the examiner will look at how you:

  • Use the vehicle controls
  • Move away at an angle, uphill and downhill
  • Do a controlled stop
  • Use the mirrors
  • Give appropriate signals
  • Show awareness and anticipation of other road users’ intentions
  • Manage your progress and control your vehicle speed
  • Deal with hazards
  • Select a safe place to stop.

There’ll also be 10 minutes of independent driving. This is to test your ability to drive safely while making independent decisions.


Off-road exercises

These include an S-shaped reverse into a bay.


Passing the test

You’ll pass your test if you have 15 or fewer driving faults and no dangerous faults.


Driver CPC part 4 test: practical demonstration

Like part 2, you’ll only need to take this part of the test if you drive for a living. As well as your documents you’ll need to bring a DVLA-approved lorry, bus or coach to take your test in.

You’ll be tested on being able to:

  • Load the vehicle safely and keep it secure
  • Stop trafficking in illegal immigrants
  • Assess emergency situations
  • Reduce physical risks to yourself or others
  • Do a walkaround vehicle safety check.

Questions will be based on the CPC syllabus. There should be five topics each with a maximum of 20 points. To pass you must score at least 15/20 in each section and have an overall score of at least 80/100.


What happens if I fail any of these tests?

With each of the four parts of the CPC test you can book another test straightaway if you fail. But you won’t be able to take the new test for another three working days.


What happens when I pass the CPC?

Congratulations! You’ll be sent a Driver CPC card, sometimes known as a driver qualification card or DQC.

You’ll need to carry this card with you if you drive professionally. The fine for being caught without it is £50. You can drive without it if you’re waiting for it to arrive, though.

If you’ve chosen to do only parts 1 and 3 of the CPC then your licence should marked with the code 101. This reflects the fact that you’re only allowed to drive recreationally and not for profit.


HGV licence renewal

Once you’ve got your HGV – or bus – licence you’ll have to renew it every five years. When you reach 65 you’ll have to renew it every year.

And to keep your licence you’ll need to do 35 hours of training within each five-year period.


How much does it cost to get an HGV licence?

While it costs nothing for the provisional licence, there are costs to take each stage of the Driver CPC.

Driver CPC part 1- theory- multiple choice
Driver CPC part 1 - theory - (hazard perception)
Driver CPC part 2 - case studies
Driver CPC part 3 - driving ability
Driver CPC part 4 - practical demonstration
Total cost

Parts 3 and 4 cost more if you take them on evenings, weekends or bank holidays. Part 3 is then £141 and part 4, £63.

Add to this the cost of getting your driving up to the standard required for the test. And any costs associated with medical tests.

Don’t forget to look at your van insurance options, too. You might be able to get specialised truck insurance for your HGV.

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Can you get an HGV licence for free?

Due to the chronic shortage of lorry drivers some companies might take you on and pay for your training. In return, you might be expected to stay with them for a minimum period, for example two years.

Another route is to do an apprenticeship in large goods vehicle driving. The course typically lasts 13 months and you’ll work towards your HGV licence as part of the training.


What can I drive without an HGV licence?

This might depend on when you got your car driving licence. The rules are stricter for people who took their test on or after 1 January 1997. Always check your licence.

If you passed in 1996 or earlier you should be able to drive a van weighing up to 8,250 kg maximum authorised weight (MAM).

This is the weight of the vehicle with everything in it, including people. Basically what it’d weigh if you drove it on to a weighbridge.

But if you’re going to be driving a 7.5 tonne van for a living you’ll need to take the CPC.

If you passed in 1997 or later you’ll be limited to ones weighing up to 3,500 kg MAM.

If you think a van will do for now, have a look at our guides to the different types of vans and see what might be appropriate.

If the cost of learning and insuring an HGV is giving you doubts, take a look at our guide on how to save money on your van insurance.