Research into different groups of drivers has identified key factors that were unique to each group and shown how managers can adapt their approach depending on their business needs.
AA Motoring Trust, working in association with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, held in-depth interviews with employed dedicated van drivers, employed tradesmen, self-employed tradesmen and self-employed van drivers.
In addition, managers of companies using work vans were interviewed to enable their views to be compared with the views of their drivers.
Experts who carried out the interviews looked at drivers’ attitudes and at how companies were tackling safety.
Their findings showed that while many firms try to improve the safety of drivers, it seems to be a horses-for-courses approach.
AA Motoring Trust said: ‘Different methods appear to be used for tradesmen who drive vans and for dedicated professional drivers. Bigger firms work in a different way to smaller firms.
‘It remains hard to argue what is the best approach. Some would maintain that all drivers should be subject to the same rigorous training package and should operate within similar rules and regulations while others believe that a more flexible approach, based on risk, is preferable.’
Overall, the research found that companies which operate vans think about their drivers’ safety and it is quite likely that many of them succeed in keeping their drivers safe.
However, the report warned: ‘The methods used to determine and minimise risk are very different and owe much to the nature of the business using them.
‘Much of the time there is poor communication between managers and drivers. This needs to be improved. If management and staff cannot agree on what safety action is actually being taken in the company, all the policies, all the vetting and all the training schemes will have little effect.’
The AA Motoring Trust said the key to improving the safety of van drivers may well lie in tools that can help managers to assess the driving ability of their staff, including web-based driver training services, which can assess an employee’s skills.
The report adds: ‘This sort of screening process can ensure that training is delivered only where it is most necessary.’
Here are some of the key findings in the report:
Employ dedicated drivers
THE majority of these drivers worked for small or medium-sized companies. In most cases, their vehicle was assigned to them and they carried financial responsibility for its condition.
Most drivers were uncertain as to whether their company had a written safety policy, but some remembered that safe driving rules were written into their work contract.
If risk assessment, rules for safe driving at work or standard accident procedures were in existence, very little knowledge about them seems to have filtered down to the drivers, the report said.
Driver selection most frequently included an interview and a driving licence check, with no further driving assessment being carried out.
Regular checks of driving licences were in place in almost all the companies, though timing varied.
Half the companies interviewed had no driving-related induction in place – the other half used a ‘buddy’ system, in which existing employees accompanied new drivers.
Further driver training was not carried out in any of the companies and only one interviewee reported regular driver assessments. No company had any driving-related health checks in place.
Furthermore, drivers reported a heavy workload, with some commenting on unrealistic schedules and a resulting lack of appropriate breaks for rest or lunch. This, they said, led to dangerous behaviour behind the wheel, such as eating, drinking and map reading. They commonly drove when tired.
None of the drivers felt up-to-date with driving-related legislation or felt that they were given this information by their management. Nevertheless, most employed drivers interviewed claimed that their company took the safety of its drivers seriously, even though there were no incentive systems for safe driving in place.
Most drivers reported they were happy with their van and took great care of it, partly because drivers had to pay for any damage themselves.