Fleet News

Stop this bartering over safety devices

FLICKING back through some old issues of Fleet News the other day, I discovered that a lot of people who are invited to contribute their opinions on this page take health and safety as their chosen topic on which to pontificate.

It’s hardly surprising really. Health and safety – and the fleet operator’s liabilities and obligations – is undoubtedly THE big fleet issue of the century so far. And one of the reasons so many fleet experts keep banging on about it week after week is that they all know a lot of company chiefs have yet to do anything about it.

Look back to the August 18 edition and you’ll find evidence of this.

Members of the Association of Car Fleet Operators’ eastern region complained at their meeting that despite warnings of dire consequences, many of their bosses simply refused to believe they must act until they had proof of impending doom.

This head-in-the-sand attitude is bound to gain ground with the failure to convict bosses at Balfour Beatty and Railtrack on corporate manslaughter charges following the Hatfield rail crash.

Health and safety happens to be one of my pet topics at present too, especially among Britain’s van fleets, so I make no apologies for devoting my column to it this week.

For too long now, van drivers have been the poor relations of the fleet industry, being expected to drive around all day long in uncomfortable vehicles that lack even the most basic of safety devices such as driver airbags and ABS brakes, let alone ‘luxuries’ such as CD players and air-conditioning.

There is much talk in the manufacturing sector at present about raising the profile of the van driving fraternity and eliminating the scourge of white van man. But how are fleets going to attract higher quality drivers when the vehicles they are expected to drive are often like relics from the 1970s?

I have carried out a major research project highlighting the safety devices van fleet operators should specify when selecting new vehicles if they are to be deemed to be following accepted rules on the health and safety of their employees – it’s due out in the next issue of Fleet Van on September 22, by the way (see www.fleetvan.net).

I opened a right old Pandora’s Box in which I discovered some vehicles had airbags and ABS brakes as standard, others had ABS but no airbags and others didn’t have either.

You can’t buy a single car in the UK today without a driver’s airbag and from this year, all cars must legally have ABS brakes.

Now pardon me for getting a bit baffled here but wouldn’t you think that as vans are built specifically to be driven round all day long, every day – while cars are generally not – they would have more safety gadgets as standard than cars?

Apparently not.

When we look into why this particular paradox exists, things become even more mystifying.

At a recent new LCV launch, I asked one of the bosses why an airbag was still listed as an optional extra and he told me: ‘There isn’t any call for an airbag to be standard.’ P> A call from whom I wonder?

Did he simply say to a series of fleet buyers: ‘Would you be prepared to pay £300 extra on the list price of this vehicle if it came with an airbag as standard?’ (an obvious question expecting the answer no), or did he ask any of the people who would be driving this vehicle (who undoubtedly would have wanted a driver’s airbag if given the chance)?

Health and safety is not something that can be bartered like a sack of potatoes. Van buyers should not be given the option of deleting basic safety items like airbags. If all the manufacturers got together and decided to make driver airbags and ABS brakes standard on all vans, then the price playing field would once again be level.

Van buyers would simply grumble in their beer a bit, forget all about it and the roads would miraculously become a safer place on which to travel.

So what are we waiting for?

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