Fleet News

Guest opinion: training van drivers is money well spent

STEVE Johnson, head of communications at Drive & Survive, urges more companies to train their van drivers in a bid to improve the terrible 'white van man' image of some 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 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 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 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 according to how much 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 speed is an important factor. Don't get me wrong, we are 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.

That is fine if drivers keep lots of space around them, are looking well ahead for changes in road conditions, can anticipate the actions of other vehicles around them, have secured the load correctly so it doesn't move under severe braking, are 100% alert, have correctly inflated tyres and have optimum weather conditions. But how often is that the case?

And that's just for starters. Apart from excessive fuel consumption, 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 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 as they have a driving licence they should be able to cope.

But the truth is many are not very competent in a car, let alone a van, and without any sort of familiarisation course, are 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.

If more van operators embarked on a rounded driver risk management process, they would reap the rewards in a number of different ways, such as reduced insurance costs and improved fuel consumption to name but two.'

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