Mark Cartwright, Head of Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention, National Highways
When it comes to commercial vehicles, we could claim that 2023 has been the year of the van – but, in truth, vans have dominated commercial vehicles sales for a long time. The van market has grown by about 60% in the past 20 years to reach 4.8m vehicles. Unfortunately, light goods vehicles (LCVs) can bring with them far greater risks than other commercial vehicle types, not least because they are very often used by non-vocational drivers, without a proper understanding of risk or regulation, and by fleets without professional transport or risk management.
The professionalisation of the UK LCV parc is a priority for the National Highways Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention Team. And we believe that those who sell, lease, convert or maintain vans can make a huge difference, by helping to educate van users throughout the country.
SMMT anticipates that 334,000 LCVs will be registered for the first time in 2024. That’s an opportunity, for us, and for suppliers. New vehicle sales, leasing and rental, used vehicle sales, MOTs and servicing are all touchpoints at which vital information can be given to van users which can make them and the road-going public around them safer.
Van suppliers and technicians should not assume that the vehicles, even when provided to a fleet, are being managed or driven by those with a thorough understanding of the risks around van use or procedures to manage drivers and vehicles. This kind of support can be a valuable addition to your services, and improve customer retention.
Why is this important?
It is essential that we professionalise the use of vans because, according to PACT’s report, “Per mile travelled, vans and light goods vehicles are involved in more deaths of other road users than any other vehicle type, more even than HGVs.”
If we can impart the knowledge, skills and procedures necessary to using vans safely, we can save lives. Vehicle suppliers will also be providing an essential extra service for their customers, which can help to prevent them receiving penalties and endorsements.
Questions sales staff and technicians may consider are:
- Does the fleet operator understand that he has a duty of care to drivers – and that the driver has a duty of care to the public when driving?
- Does the customer understand the vehicle, in particular, ADAS and safety systems?
- Do they understand its maximum payload and how to safely distribute and secure a load?
- Do they know the appropriate speed limits?
- Do they understand that they can only drive for ten hours each day, and that they should take a break every two hours?
- Do they know how to do a pre-use check?
- Do they understand that the speed limiter may be prescribed by law or by their employer’s contract and it cannot be removed?
A quick way to impart this information is, of course, to use the award-winning and National Highways-endorsed Van Driver Toolkit. All you have to do is enter your email address, and the pdfs, toolbox talks and videos can be shared with customers. This is a great way to keep in touch with your customer base, by sending a timely, seasonal or essential pdf out for them to share with drivers each month.
Driving for Better Business (DfBB) can offer huge support to fleets, or to supply companies. It has a wide range of freely available resources, and works closely with partners to share and promote safety messages. With DfBB support, suppliers can better support their customers, improve road safety and add value to their relationships, with minimal effort or expense. It’s a win-win.
Electric vehicles are a fantastic addition to the vehicle parc. However, while we know how to mitigate the risks of ICE vehicles, we’re still learning about electric vehicles and so instruction at point of sale is vital. In 2024 34,000 electric LCVs will be registered. Most drivers will get no specific training except perhaps on how to charge it. Familiarising them with the linear torque, the regenerative braking, ADAS, and how to drive for safety and maximised range is essential – as is what to do in the event of a collision.
Think it through with the client. If the vehicle has autolocking, where are the manual door releases? If the battery isn’t operational, is the vehicle safe to push off the carriageway or will the electronic handbrake prevent this? Will the hazard warning lights be operational?
According to SMMT 60% of LCVs are used in construction, transport, or the automotive sale and repair services. The vans are getting larger, and with electrification, heavier. Quite often the only meaningful instruction that drivers will get about how their new vehicle works and how to manage risk is when they interact with the dealer, salesperson or technician.
Please don’t waste that opportunity to educate them. Regardless of their profession, driving is the single most dangerous activity they will undertake in their day. Your teams can make a difference. Our van drivers are an essential part of the UK economy – they deserve to have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs safely.