Fleet News

Fleet Van soapbox

STEVE Johnson, head of communications at Drive & Survive, urges more firms to train their drivers in a bid to improve the terrible image of Britain's LCV fleets.

'They are regularly castigated, but unfortunately have come to deserve their somewhat overstated reputation. OK, so a few are owner drivers and they do care but, sadly it's a fact that many medium-size vans are driven by young, unambitious men who have no intention of making a career of it and are only in it, short-term, for the money.

So staff turnover is notoriously high in this sector and it's hardly surprising that these mavericks have very little incentive to look after their vehicles or comply with the law. The result? Excessive speeding, tailgating, overloading, aggressive behaviour and, generally, little regard for other road users.

Drive & Survive re-trains a lot of them, so we know.

In fact we've encountered a number of worrying trends. Piecework, for instance, is still alive and well and living in the courier and fast delivery business.

How can you expect a driver to comply with speed limits and show consideration for other road users if he is paid more the more he delivers? Equally, how can the vehicle have a hope in hell of returning a reasonable fuel consumption if the pedal is constantly to the metal?

Taking this last point a step further, we find it amazing that the managers or owners of the small fleets to which these vans generally belong aren't more concerned about the bottom line. It's a fiercely competitive business and you would think they'd be doing everything possible to reduce their outgoings.

But no – they seem quite happy for their vans to be thrashed along our motorways at 90mph plus in the outside lane, terrorising all before them. It's hardly surprising that most are not sign-written!

And there's no question that speed is an important factor. Don't get me wrong, Drive & Survive is not aligned with the 'lowering speed limits/speed cameras everywhere' lobby. Far from it. We advocate the sensible management of speed and believe that, in itself, speed does not kill. However there must now be a case for curbing the speed of some of these middleweight vans, which seem capable of speeds well in excess of 100mph with impunity, loaded or unloaded.

Fine if they keep lots of space around them all the time, are looking well ahead for changes in road conditions (when did they last have an eye test?), can anticipate the actions of other vehicles around them, have secured the load correctly so it doesn't move under severe braking, are 110% alert (out on the beer last night, being kept awake by the newly-born baby or on over-the-counter hay fever remedies?), have correctly inflated tyres, and have optimum weather conditions. And that's just for starters.

Apart from excessive fuel consumption, referred to earlier, tyre and brake wear must be astronomic too.

And then there are the bumps and knocks that seemingly go with the territory. All can be avoided with some coaching on how to change your driving approach but, if suggested, this largely falls on deaf ears. In fact, very little re-training seems to take place at all and it's only when a few insurers say enough is enough that any action is taken.

It appears that 90% of drivers are just thrown the keys when they start the job and told to get on with it, on the basis that they have a driving licence and should be able to cope. But the truth is that many are not very competent in a car, let alone a van, and without any sort of familarisation course, are just an accident waiting to happen. Although vans have improved immeasurably in the past decade they still have very different dynamic attributes and brake, steer and handle very differently to a car, particularly if lightly or fully loaded.

How do the drivers have any way of knowing what to do in extremis unless they've had the chance of some practice or some re-training? The only option is to find out 'on the job' and this could very easily be at the expense of a life or serious injury – either to them or another road user.

There appears to be little or no evidence of a safety culture among this driving community. Slowly it's becoming accepted in the car fleet environment but apparently not within the van world.

Take seat belts. There are no reliable figures available but an educated guess would suggest that 50% of drivers don't wear seat belts just because there are dispensations in law for drivers engaged in multi-drop deliveries. Wearing a seat belt should be like not drinking and driving – an accepted social standard, adhered to in the best interests of the entire community.

And there is no doubt that a high percentage of van drivers adopt a very macho, press-on- regardless style of driving on the road.

They seem to imagine they have a better than average chance of getting away with high risk manoeuvres just because they are higher up and have quite a lot of metal around them.

If they were ever in a position to witness their vehicles being subjected to a EuroNCAP-style impact test, which no van is legally required to do, I reckon they might be surprised how little protection is on offer and they might think twice about their attitude.

If more van operators embarked on a rounded driver risk management process, they would reap the rewards in a number of different ways:

  • Reduced insurance costs,
  • Improved fuel consumption,
  • Reduced wear and tear costs,
  • Improved residual value at disposal time,
  • Reduced own damage (sub excess) repair costs,
  • Reduced vehicle downtime,
  • Happier, more productive staff who are likely to stay in the job longer, and
  • Compliance with employers' duty of care and health and safety regulations.

    Does something in the LCV fleet industry get YOU hot under the collar? Email trevor.gelken@emap.com and take your turn on the Fleet Van soapbox

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