Modern life: brought to you by a van

Nov 11 • Features, Fleet Technology • 3437 Views • No Comments on Modern life: brought to you by a van


It’s time the importance of vans to the UK economy was more widely recognised and that all companies, including service organisations, paid more attention to safety, quality and compliance, says Mark Cartwright, head of the Van Excellence programme at the UK’s Freight Transport Association.

The economic and social value of van LCVs, or van fleets, in delivering both GDP and essential services, and the way in which LCV users shape and enhance modern life in the UK is undervalued, says Cartwright. The Freight Transport Association has been campaigning to raise awareness of these vital tools in the UK economy since 2010, with its Van Excellence scheme.

Some interesting statistics emerged in the FTA’s 2015 Van Excellence Report. There are 3.6 million vans in the UK in 2015: 1.63 million are registered to companies, and 1.8 million to individuals. Van use in the UK is expected to almost double by 2040 compared to 2010.

Van ownership is diffuse, with only 9% of vehicles in the hands of the biggest operators. Hence, while the largest fleets in the market belong to those companies at the pinnacle of each sector, much of each sector’s work is done by progressively smaller sub-contractor fleets.

Most van drivers identify with their core trade or activity and not as professional drivers. Nonetheless, driving is an essential part of their job and their skill set.

Many sectors in the UK economy, incuding field service are van-dependent – their principal economic activities could not be conducted without the use of vans. While LCVs are not therefore a direct source of wealth generation, they are a key facilitator of wealth generation.

The largest van-dependent sectors in the UK economy are construction, engineering and utilities, whose activities very often overlap in the development and maintenance of the national infrastructure; and the postal and parcels sector.

Only 205,000 people identify as ‘van driver’ in the UK’s Office of National Statistics on employment figures. Most van drivers identify with their core trade or activity and not as professional drivers. Nonetheless, driving is an essential part of their job and their skill set.

Regulation is not lacking in this area, but understanding and professionalism is. More regulation would be ill-suited to the extremely diverse range of operations in this market and the agility and versatility they require.

Operational challenges

All fleets suffer to some extent from the public perception of ‘white van man’. Few fleet managers feel there is any national or public recognition of the vital services carried out by their drivers, nor the economic and social value
underpinned by the vehicles they operate

LCVs are primarily used in non-transport businesses. This gives rise to many challenges for the business, the fleet departments involved, and the general public.

It is incumbent upon those running van fleets to protect the public safety and to fulfil their duty-of-care obligations to their employees. Driving is often the biggest work-related risk that their employees face.

Police officers and firefighters in the UK are less likely to die in the line of duty than they are on their journey into work each morning…

To put this in context, police officers and fire fighters in the UK are less likely to die in the line of duty than they are on their journey into work each morning. This road risk extends, of course, to all road users, whether professional drivers or not. By training those who drive for work in roadworthiness and safe-driving practice, employers extend that greater safety into the wider community.

Major compliance challenges include:

  • a lack of transport understanding among staff
  • a lack of transport awareness among decision-makers
  •   the failure of those highly aware of risk in another field to recognise
    driving as a work-related risk;
  • the difficulties of managing a geographically dispersed fleet;
  • a lack of recognition that driving is a professional activity.

Commercial challenges include:

  • an intense focus on cost, exacerbated by the fact that the fleet is usually a cost centre and not a profit centre;
  • the risk to their vehicles from fraudulent insurance claims;
  • the difficulty in maintaining training benefits in sectors with a high turnover of drivers.

Despite the high standards of many van fleets, the UK van parc overall suffers from a lack of legal compliance, and from owners, managers and drivers who show a poor understanding of their responsibilities. Vans stopped by the Government’s DVSA enforcement agency show an 89% overloading rate, and a 50% first-time failure rate in the annual vehicle safety test.

Unlike the heavily regulated HGV sector, professional fleet-management is generally only found in the largest of van fleets. Without a statutory framework for management and without transport backgrounds or relationships, many
businesses are not aware of their compliance responsibilities.

FTA believes the sheer diversity of the business and operational models that vans support makes regulation an unwieldy tool for furthering safety. There is already comprehensive regulation which outlines the standards of roadworthiness, driver capability and driving practice in the UK, including statutory instruments such as the domestic drivers’ hours regulations, or the guidelines and mandatory rules of the Highway Code.

Corporate responsibility

The issue is not a lack of regulation but rather a frequent lack of operator awareness and understanding. Corporate fleet departments can also be isolated and misunderstood by the core businesses they serve. Professional fleet managers within non-transport environments make the following observations:

  • The business, often from board level to drivers, lacks an understanding of legal compliance regarding vehicles.
  • Many drivers have been trained in risk assessment for their core craft but do not recognise driving as a work-related risk.
  • Drivers do not see driving as an important or skilled part of their job.
  • Fleets are under extreme cost scrutiny, but often cannot convey to financial controllers the necessity of examining whole-life costs, efficiency or safety implications.
  • LCV operations, however professional, also suffer the stigma of ‘white van man’ and a lack of public appreciation of their critical role in the UK economy and UK communities.

Modern life is brought to you by vans; safety, quality and compliance is delivered by Van Excellence.
Van Excellence is an industry-led audit scheme run by FTA on behalf of all LCV operators. The audit includes standards and methods of fleet management which its major members consider best practice. Van Excellence now has 103 accredited companies, covering 125,000 vehicles.

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