Fleet News

White van man: hard working hero or national disgrace

TRANSPORT minister Alistair Darling’s announcement last week that he is pumping £1.3 million into a new voluntary training scheme for van drivers in a bid to rid Britain of the scourge of white van man has once again opened up a long-running and bitter debate.

While a substantial percentage of the population – thanks largely to a storm whipped up by certain sections of the media – believe the nation’s van drivers to be hard-nosed thugs who threaten the very fabric of society with their bad driving, those involved in the light commercial vehicle industry think white van man is being picked on unfairly.

The figures appear to bear this out.

There are 10 times as many cars as vans on the UK’s roads, yet in 2004, there were 30 times as many deaths and injuries among car drivers and their passengers, according to figures from the Department of Transport (DfT).

Paul Smith, founder of the Safe Speed road safety campaign, believes the Government is barking up the wrong tree with its new scheme. He said: ‘Our white van men have an enviable safety record and pose the lowest risk to pedestrians according to the DfT’s own figures.

‘White van man poses less risk to pedestrians than even cyclists and is one of the very safest road user groups. The risk to pedestrians posed by buses is 10 times greater.

‘White van man is among the worst for speeding but among the safest in terms of crashes.

‘That should really prove to the DfT that they are barking up the wrong tree once again. Education initiatives are always welcome, but why can’t we land them where they are most needed?’

Even those who welcomed Darling’s move warned that it should not be viewed as a ‘quick fix’ solution.

Ian McKenzie, group business development director at fleet performance improvement company FMG Support, added: ‘It is encouraging that the Government recognises van driving as a profession that requires continued training and development.

‘It addresses the relationship between safe driving and the impact this can have on reducing fuel consumption, controlling costs, and benefiting the environment.

‘This is a positive step, but it should not be regarded as a ‘quick-fix’ solution to solving safety or environmental issues.’

Eddie Parker, commercial vehicle expert at fleet management firm Masterlease, said: ‘The role of the professional driver has been tarnished by certain elements of the media.

‘This initiative will be good for professional driver businesses as it will go some way to help restore their image from that of nuts on the road to that of knights of the road.’

  • What do you think? Email fleetnews@emap.com

    FACT: you are three times more likely to be killed or injured in a car than in a van

  • Number of vans on UK roads 2.58 million
  • Number of deaths and serious injuries 6,163
  • Number of cars on UK roads 30.6 million
  • Number of deaths and serious injuries 183,807

    The expert’s view

    Stewart Whyte,
    Director, car and van fleet managers’ association Acfo

    THE percentage of scruffy, reckless, care- less and dangerous van drivers on our roads is probably no different from the percentage of car drivers.

    It is just that vans are highly visible and intrusive and are invariably driven by fleet drivers, whereas a car could be driven by a fleet or private driver. This small percentage tarnishes the reputation of the large majority of stable, regular guys and girls who go about their business in a safe, professional manner.

    ‘Fleet managers need to be aware of this problem and pick out those drivers who are guilty of bad behaviour on the roads and do something about it – it is, after all, a health and safety at work problem. They also need to keep an eye on why bad driving has occurred.

    ‘If it is because of too tight schedules, managers must put pressure on their bosses to make these schedules more realistic.’

    The driver’s view

    Phil Benns,
    Franchisee, Kwiklite lighting maintenance

    I AM a white van driver who drives responsibly and has not had an accident for 12 years, but it annoys me that I am tarred with this brush.

    There are some drivers who deserve this label but vans are high-visibility vehicles and it only takes a few drivers acting irresponsibly to give us all a bad name – I see far more car drivers doing stupid things but they don’t show up like vans.

    ‘Also, a lot of the problem can be blamed on companies giving their van drivers schedules which they can’t possibly stick to. I used to be employed by a firm as a driver and now that I work for myself I set myself realistic schedules and drive differently. It’s not only safer but I save on tyres and maintenance too.

    This new van driver training scheme is a good thing but I also think the Government should put pressure on the bosses to cut back on the amount of work drivers are expected to do.’

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