Fleet News

Guest opinion: Van scourge is case of press hysteria

AFTER last week’s headline ‘Training scheme aims to tame white van man’, you’ll hardly be surprised to learn that I am about to pontificate – once again – about this terrible threat that apparently stalks mankind at every junction.

In case you didn’t read the story, it stated that transport minister Alistair Darling was pumping £1.3 million into a new scheme that aims to improve van driving standards, leading to a possible £500-a-year saving in fuel.

A by-product of this saving should be that with safer van drivers inhabiting our roads, there will be fewer accidents and injuries and less harmful gases being pumped into our air.

Let me say first of all that I am totally in favour of this scheme. It might not be ideal and there are more than a few rough edges around it at the moment, but Darling must be congratulated for at least standing up and putting his money where his mouth is.

Many people in Government pay lip service to the subject of road safety but few actually do anything concrete about it. Yes, I’ll raise my glass to driver training every time.

What I do have a problem with, though, is this overwhelming assumption that white van man poses a major threat to all right-minded citizens in the UK.

I’ve been a journalist for nigh on 37 years now and during that time I’ve seen quite a few unnecessary storms whipped up by certain members of Her Majesty’s press, for no other reason than that they want to sell a few papers.

Remember when Mods and Rockers threatened the very fabric of society? In reality, this particular genre consisted of a few hundred kids who ventured down to Britain’s beaches on summer weekends and got into a few fights. We see worse violence every night on our streets now.

It goes on and on. If you believe what you read in some of our tabloids nowadays, you might imagine asylum seekers are about to take over the country, everyone who draws the dole is a scrounger and all Muslims are in league with Osama Bin Laden.

The phenomenon of white van man is a prime example of this gutter journalism in my view. Next time you embark on a long journey, try counting the number of vans on the road and the percentage of those that are being driven dangerously. If you count one in 300 that deserve to be vilified, you’ll be lucky.

It’s a gross insult to the thousands of hard-working highly professional men and women who ply the highways and byways of Britain day after day keeping the wheels of Great Britain plc oiled to be lumped together as a scourge that needs eradicating. Which brings me to the major problem with Darling’s scheme.

There are, without a doubt, a small minority of van drivers who not only need extra training but in my view also need to have their licencees ripped up and be chucked in jail for a few months.

And they are exactly the people who will definitely not be taking part in this new volutary training scheme.

The type of people who will be taking up the offer of a day’s training are likely to be small one-man bands who buy and drive their own vans (and probably drive carefully already) and larger fleets which take duty of care seriously. Their drivers are likely to be pretty well trained. So if they take up this opportunity and become ever better drivers, it will only go to show up the bad drivers as being even worse.

I believe the only way we are going to see all van drivers toeing the line is by creating a new licence category for panel vans and forcing people with car licences to pass a new test before being allowed to drive them. It’s a tough move and would cost a fortune, but maybe if white van man really is that bad, it’s a nettle that just has to be grasped.

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