Fleet News

Guest opinion: Ford points the way: now it’s down to us

WHO would choose a job in the van fleet business these days? It seems to rate about as highly as that of a tax collector or a traffic warden.

Yes, we all know that white van man cruises the length and breadth of Britain causing chaos and death and frightening old ladies, but the people in the industry also understand that the vast majority of van drivers are highly professional people who drive safely.

Now with new rules on duty of care in the workplace looming, it is becoming clear that the van fleet industry must do something to improve its image before those faceless men in Whitehall start getting involved and putting forward draconian new laws.

It’s all very well talking about white van man and the problems he causes but so far no-one seems to have actually done anything concrete about it.

So it’s hats off to Gary Whittam, director of commercial vehicles at Ford of Britain, who has decided to put his money where his mouth is and start a new campaign called ‘Wise Van Man’ which is aiming to raise the profile of Britain’s hard-pressed van driving fraternity and put them on a footing with the rest of humanity.

And he’s been joined by some industry heavyweights such as RoadSafe, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, Drive & Survive, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Norwich Union and the Freight Transport Association.

Whittam’s plan is fairly simply – from the time buyers enter a Ford showroom, they will be given advice on which vehicles will be best for their purposes.

Then customers will receive £200 of accredited training with Drive & Survive culminating with IAM Advanced Driving Test certification.

The training, which sees drivers using their own vehicles during the day, includes on-road driving techniques, dynamics of driving with and without a load, emergency lane changing, low speed manoeuvring and how to deal with a skid.

And Norwich Union is offering a free seven-day ‘driveaway’ insurance to Ford retail commercial vehicle customers through FordInsure.

On confirmation of passing the IAM test, customers will get £60 cashback off a new insurance policy and 5% discount on first renewal and all subsequent renewals, saving on average around a further £25 a year.

Whittam understands that it’s a small step in the right direction and won’t solve the problems the industry is facing at a stroke but he is hoping that this initiative might start the ball rolling and produce results.

And that’s where the rest of us come in. For my part I can help give publicity to the scheme – as I am doing here – and you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the pages of Fleet News and Fleet Van in the coming months.

Now what about you?

For starters, the other van manufacturers could put their differences aside for a moment and all join together with Ford for the common good.

That leaves Britain’s van fleet operators to take up the cudgels.

Training is a must. As things stand at present, a 17-year-old could pass a driving test in a Nissan Micra and jump straight into a 3.5-tonne long wheelbase van with a full bulkhead and no rear windows. The thought makes me shudder.

And once drivers have been trained, it is essential that they are not given schedules they can’t keep to without breaking the speed limits.

These two simple moves would go a long way towards elevating the van fleet industry to the levels of its HGV brother.

It might cost of a bit of money, but the alternative of doing nothing may cost an awful lot more – tachographs, speed limiters and compulsory training do not come cheap.

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