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What Are The Differences Between Driving A Lorry And A Car?

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You may think you have the skills of Lewis Hamilton, or aspire to host Top Gear, but does this mean you’ll be a good HGV driver? Well, while it’s important to enjoy driving and life on the open road, driving a lorry is actually very different to driving a car. This is why you need to take additional driving licences in order to upgrade to a medium or heavy goods vehicle.

Here are some of the ways in which driving a lorry is different to driving a car:

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Lane positioning

Spatial awareness is vital whatever you’re driving. However, when you’re driving an HGV your greater size and mass means you have to be even more aware of your road positioning. When you take up so much of the road, there’s far less room for error. Think about it, the average saloon car is 4 metres in length and under 2 tonnes in weight. However, an HGV can measure up to 16.5 metres in length – 4 times the length of a car – and a drawbar combination can be up to 18.75 m long. You’ll also be wider, so you need to be far more aware of your road positioning. This is why the qualification required to drive professionally involves practical as well as theory elements. Once you’ve got the feel for the size of the vehicle, the driving is straightforward and you just need to keep an eye on the cars zipping past you.

Braking distance

As well as the greater dimensions of a lorry, there’s also a huge disparity in weight. The average car weighs around 4,000 pounds, or just under 2 tonnes. However, HGVs can weigh up to 44 tonnes. This means they will take longer to brake, so you need to plan manoeuvres earlier than other drivers. Even with the assistance of air brakes, the momentum of an HGV means it will have a longer braking distance than a car that’s travelling at the same speed. It can also mean that driving on rough terrain is more tricky in an HGV, and requires far more concentration. Again, once you get the feel for this, it’s not too daunting. But it’s another way in which driving a lorry is different to driving a car.

Turning right

Cars might hug the road, but lorries are so long, they have a far wider turning circle. In the UK, this means that when turning right, a lorry will make a very wide turn, either at a junction or when proceeding onto a roundabout. Indeed, you’ll probably have seen warning signs on the back of HGVs, warning to allow them more room and time to turn, and not to pull up to the side of them during a manoeuvre.

Gear changes

While most modern lorries have automatic gearboxes, there are still some older manual models around. As opposed to cars, that tend to have five or six forward gears as well as reverse, lorries can have up to 18 forward gears and 4 for reverse. The way you use these gears is very different. Given the weight of the vehicle, you need maximum torque to pull away and this is provided at lower gears. However, although you’ll have a high gear ratio, the difference in speed between gears is low. This can be as little as 3-5mph, as opposed to a car in which you can use first gear up to 20 mph, and (if on a flat road) can use sixth gear for anything above 40 mph.

This means the way you’ll learn to use gears is very different in an HGV to a car, and we haven’t even touched on double de-clutching! This is where you have to depress the clutch twice during a gear change – once to shift to neutral and a second time to put it into a new gear. This is used in lorries and vehicles that have an unsynchronised gearbox. Very different to your average car gearbox! One final difference to note is that in lorries with a manual gearbox, the gears are also an important means for managing fuel consumption.

Time to accelerate

We’ve already explained about the torque required to move a vehicle, and the reason for the number of gears. This is obviously because of the weight of a lorry. The weight means it can take longer to stop, but it also means an HGV will take longer to pull away at a junction than a car will. As an HGV driver, you’ll be aware of this. It means you’ll need to wait for a longer gap in traffic to pull out onto a road, or a longer gap at a roundabout. Car drivers can easily make smaller gaps, but as an HGV driver you need to be aware of the increased time it will take to pull away.

Road awareness

As well as lane positioning, lorry drivers need to plan manoeuvres far earlier than a car driver. Given that the majority of accidents that involve an HGV are actually caused by a car driver, HGV drivers need to be incredibly aware of how other drivers are behaving around them. Last minute lane changes, late braking and dangerous overtaking manoeuvres are just some of the driving behaviours lorry drivers need to look out for.

Blind spots

How many times have you seen a sign on an HGV that reads ‘if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you’. Well, it’s because a lorry has far more and far larger blind spots than a car. A car driver can use their mirrors and look over their shoulder to check that a lane is clear. However, a lorry driver simply doesn’t have the same field of vision around their vehicle. Indeed, blind spots will exist directly in front of the vehicle, along the sides and at the back. It can be especially tricky when turning left, as the driver has blind spots on the front diagonal and down the sides. This may sound daunting, but it’s one of the driving skills you’ll gain during the training process.


Lorry drivers don’t have a rear view mirror. So unless there’s a camera fitted, they rely solely on their side mirrors when reversing. This is where the real skill comes in – we’ve all seen lorry drivers make the tightest of reversing manoeuvres, even when they have incredibly restricted visibility. Reversing alarms definitely help, but they’re not always fitted on older models. In contrast, cars have a rear view mirror and drivers without a camera can easily turn in their seat to check their positioning.

Gaining your licence

Gaining your Category B car driving licence involves a theory and practical test. You’ll need to be at least 17 years of age and hold a provisional licence before you can learn, but there’s no minimum number of training hours you have to undertake. In contrast, in order to drive lorries for a living, you’ll need to pass the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) for the category of vehicle you’ll be driving. This is comprised of four elements – two theory and two practical – as well as driver training hours.

Here are the licence categories for medium-sized lorries and HGVs in the UK:

Category C1 – this allows you to drive light goods vehicles that weigh between 3,500kg and 7,500kg tonnes, with a trailer that weighs up to 750kg.

Category C1+E – this entitlement is added to your C1 licence. It permits you to drive C1 vehicles with a trailer over 750kg (the combined MAM must not exceed 12,000kg).

Category C – also referred to as Class 2, the Cat C licence allows you to drive rigid body vehicles that are over 3,500 kg in weight, but under 32 tonnes, with trailers of up to 750kg MAM.

Category C+E – also referred to as Class 1, the Cat C+E licence allows you to drive articulated and drawbar vehicles. They can weigh over 3,500 kg with a detachable trailer that’s over 750 kg. The maximum weight you can haul is 44 tonnes.

Another difference in licensing is that while a car driving licence qualifies you for life, lorry drivers need to undertake regular training, in order to keep their Driver CPC card valid. This is known as Periodic CPC training, and involves 35 hours of training every 5 years.

So as you can see, there’s a lot more to think about when driving a lorry, compared with driving a car. However, the comprehensive driver training you’ll receive while gaining your driving licence will ensure you’re ready to hit the road with confidence and the right driving skills. Being an HGV or lorry driver is an excellent career choice, with great job security and – given the current driver shortages – guaranteed employment. So if you’re thinking of upgrading your car driving licence for a lorry licence, there’s never been a better time to learn. If you’re interested in embarking on an exciting new career as a lorry driver then get in touch today. Here at HGV Driver Training Centre, we have years of experience and not only deliver training of the highest standard, but we also help you secure employment. Contact us on 0808 168 5255 and speak to one of our advisors today.

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