Back in 1997, few panel vans even offered a driver’s airbag or ABS brakes as standard equipment, while traction control was unheard of.
Nowadays, with duty of care issues often in the forefront of van fleet operators’ minds, most commercial vehicles are now up to par with their car brethren.
But care must be taken when choosing new vehicles as they are by no means all the same.
The safety-conscious LCV operator who wants to buy the best for his drivers must first read all the small print – the devil’s in the detail.
For example, while virtually all panel vans nowadays have a driver’s airbag as standard, passenger and side bags invariably remain on the paid-for options list.
Most vans don’t carry passengers so won’t need them, but for those who go ‘two-up’ it’s a point worth bearing in mind.
It’s the same with ABS brakes. Most manufacturers fit them as standard but a few still sneak them on to the options list.
ESP traction control is lauded as one of the best safety advancements since the seatbelt, correcting sideways skids. But again, check the details.
In the heavy panel van sector, the Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter offer ESP as standard, while others put this life-saving device on the options list. The LDV Maxus, meanwhile, doesn’t offer it at all.
One of the best safety devices around – and one which will invariably cost money – is the speed limiter.
If you can’t trust your drivers to stick to the speed limits, this simple device will do it for them.
Drivers will moan and groan but at the end of the day their arguments don’t stack up – there is no excuse for breaking the law.
Citroën offers a factory-fit speed limiter on the Relay for £70, but retrofit devices are likely to cost around £300 per vehicle. However, this expense should be quickly recouped in fuel savings and fewer accidents.
One of the most cost-effective safety extras must be the rear parking sensor, which typically costs £100 or so.
This money will recouped the first time a driver misses a solid object while reversing.
One surefire method of improving safety on van fleets is by introducing a driver training programme.
It has been proved time and time again that the expense of putting drivers through training will be recouped many times over by a reduction in accidents on the road.
The Government launched a new training initiative last year called SAFED (Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving) and so far, some 8,000 drivers have been given instruction about not only safer driving but also more fuel-efficient ways of operating on the roads.
Results from the programme show that the drivers trained averaged an improvement in miles per gallon of more than 24% on the day, up to 60% reduction in driver faults, 34% reduction of the number of gearchanges and a 1.5% reduction of journey time.
The importance of training was brought home by Jim Kirkwood, managing director of risk management specialist DriveTech UK.
He said: “Duty of care is a phrase that should be uppermost in the vocabulary of every LCV fleet operator, but just how far should a company go in protecting its drivers?
“It is a tough question and there is no off-the-peg answer, but the key to providing a safety-focused solution is to initially conduct a risk assessment of the fleet to understand all issues involving driver, vehicle, the loads being carried and the trips being undertaken and then adopt safety features in line with best practice standards that will minimise the risk.”
A van can be fitted with all the safety devices available but if the load is not safe, disaster can ensue.
The issue of load safety has recently been taken up by the Freight Transport Association (FTA), which has commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to carry out a crash research programme, prior to publishing The Best Practice Guide for Load Security in Light Commercial Vehicles early next year.
It is hoped that the Department for Transport (DfT) will adopt the booklet as its official guidance for fleet operators.
Issues being examined include:
Fleet News recently attended a crash test at the TRL research centre in which a van was stacked up with a typical builders’ load of bricks, concrete mixer etc, all unsecured, and crashed at 30mph.
The bricks were almost all broken in half and the whole load piled itself into the bulkhead, snapping it off and pushing it into the cab.
Worse was to reveal itself when we watched a slow motion film of the crash.
The load had pushed itself forward into the back of the driver’s seat. As the driver was being restrained from going forwards by the seatbelt, it is likely that he would have suffered major injury or even death.
Responsible van racking firms, including Sortimo and Modul-System, are now crash-testing their products to ensure that they can withstand the impact of an accident.
Sortimo, for example, uses TRL for its testing and a 30mph crash test showed that the contents remained in the racks, while – apart from a slight buckling of the legs – the whole system was unaffected.