The warning from Skills for Logistics, the Sector Skills Council for the industry, says that unless action is taken to promote driving as a career, the severe shortage could cost the industry £1bn a year.
One year on from the introduction of the Road Transport Directive on April 4, the shortage could have crippling implications for the industry, reducing productivity by up to 10%.
In addition, 40% of companies surveyed in a joint study by the Freight Transport Association and consultancy NAI Fuller Peiser said they would need to reassess their property requirements as a result of the directive, which is hitting companies with sites in the north of England hardest.
Ian Hetherington, chief executive of SfL, said that the RTD, which limits the average number of hours that lorry drivers can work to 48 a week - compared with the existing industry average of 62 - put further pressure on an already overstretched workforce.
Logistics and supply chain business TDG has been recruiting drivers from Poland to make up the numbers. It is also piloting a scheme, called Warehouse to Wheels, which identifies internal staff with the potential to move into driving.
Meanwhile, an inquiry examining the effects of freight taxes and foreign competition on the freight industry has called on the government to impose charges on foreign vehicles that use the UK’s road network.
The Burns Freight Taxes Inquiry found this week that as many as 1.5 million foreign vehicles use the UK’s roads each year but do not contribute to fuel duty.
It estimates that the government could gain £250m a year in fuel duty and £200m in road wear costs if a charge was introduced.