When employing a new driver, do you simply check their licence and entitlements, and then never look at it again?  If so, you could be setting your business up for problems down the line – your drivers’ competence and legality is actually your responsibility, and while they have a duty to inform you as their employer of anything that may affect your work, you are legally obliged to keep track of their fitness and ability to work.     

Do you know if any of your drivers have received points on their licences while driving their own vehicles?  Or if they are taking medication which could impact on their ability to drive?  Some hayfever treatments can have a highly sedative effect, and medicines prescribed by doctors can often have serious contraindications that include not driving while taking them.  Identifying driver impairments and checking fitness to drive are crucial to every transport operation and it's important to establish a robust checking process.    

One way to check drivers on a regular basis is to add questions to their daily walk round check, either on paper or on an app.  Questions such as “Have you had an alcoholic drink in the last 12 hours?” or “Have you started taking any medication that could affect your ability to drive?” offer an opportunity to remind employees of their obligations, can prompt them to consider their behaviour and open up discussions if you suspect they are not fit to drive.      

It’s worth remembering that, according to the NHS, the body can take up to two hours to break down one pint of lager or beer, or three hours for a glass of wine, after consumption, and obviously that time frame extends the more alcohol that is consumed.  So just going to bed with a pint of water after a long summer BBQ session may not be enough to ensure that the driver is 100% fit and sober to drive the morning after.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you suspect something is wrong, stop them from driving.  Those who are hungover are often impaired, with slower reaction times and less likelihood to assess potential hazards as a result.   

The Van Excellence film 'One Fateful Day' highlights the potential impact of driver distraction for the driver, operations manager and company owner.  A van driver who has taken drugs is involved in a fatal collision with a child and the film explores the devastating consequences.  Watch the whole film here: Youtube - theftachannel

Posted: 04/06/2018 12:15:57 by Ryan Kneller | with 0 comments

We all know someone who thinks they’re Lewis Hamilton, driving too fast every time they get behind the wheel.  Can you honestly say that you’ve never exceeded the speed limit to get somewhere on time, to make that extra delivery or ensure that you get to an important meeting?     

Excessive speed is often a major factor in road traffic collisions.  It’s sobering to realise that the chance of survival for a pedestrian hit by a car increases from 10% if the vehicle is travelling at 40mph to 90% if it's doing 20mph.  But what are the implications for transport operators if their drivers regularly speed or cause an accident while breaking the speed limit?    

Cost is one area to explore - travelling at 80mph can use up to 25% more fuel than driving at 70mph.  Speeding due to the pressure of work causes driving stress and this can lead to employees being off work, either through illness or because of a road accident, let alone because of damaged vehicles, so effective driver management is important.  Prior planning of routes and delivery patterns can go a long way to ensuring that speed can be controlled – don’t make excessive demands of your staff.   

Technology can play a big part.  Vans can be limited so that exceeding the speed limit is not possible, and telematics can be used to monitor and manage a driver's performance.  And perhaps there's an argument for vehicles to be limited by default when they come off the production line?  After all, what other piece of industrial equipment is sold equipped to break the law?    

Financial penalties for speeding have recently increased and drivers could find themselves with big fines relating to their weekly earnings as a consequence.  Business owners who turn a blind eye to speeding are also at risk under Health and Safety at Work legislation.  New sentencing guidelines put greater emphasis on the culpability of senior managers and owners.  An evidence of speed can be gathered from management systems on modern vans, even when no telematics are fitted.     

Driving at speed can have a significant effect on the way a vehicle handles on the road, making accidents more likely to occur.  And it is worth pointing out the effect that constant acceleration and deceleration can have on the life of a vehicle – much better to drive at a steady, controlled pace, keeping within the speed limit.  All in all, driving in a proactive manner, at an appropriate speed, is something that we should all be doing, week in, week out – that extra 5mph really isn’t worth the potential problems it can cause.   

Posted: 09/05/2018 10:49:11 by Ryan Kneller | with 0 comments

With most of us rushed off our feet, juggling work and family, the idea of doing a big ‘spring clean’ at home seems like an old-fashioned idea. But what about your van? Professional drivers often spend as much time in the cab as they do in their living room, so making sure your vehicle interior is safe and well organised is a worthwhile job. If you’re an employer, it’s even more important. Legally, a van is viewed as a ‘workplace’ and you have professional obligations to keep it safe. So here are some simple measures you can take to spring clean your vehicle:

Start by clearing out the cab. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be using your phone while driving, but what about other items that can cause a distraction or block your vision? Check the radio and the cab controls all function properly. Tidy away food and snacks. It’s not illegal to eat and drive at the same time. However, if you present a significant danger the police could prosecute you for careless driving, if they think you’re not in proper control of the vehicle. The same goes for cigarettes. It’s not illegal to smoke while you’re driving, but opening a packet and lighting-up takes your attention off the road.

Look at the windscreen and side windows. Is there anything that’s blocking your vision? Sat navs should be in a fixed position, either on the windscreen or dashboard, but the dashboard is far better because that doesn’t block your view. Don’t pile-up delivery notes, directions, maps and other bits of paper on the dashboard, where they can also block vision or slide off and distract you. You can’t read them while you’re driving, so it’s better to keep them in the door pockets or even better the glove compartment.

Now take a look in the back of your vehicle. Do you and everyone who drives the van know its safe maximum load? Driving an overloaded van is not only extremely dangerous, but if stopped, the driver is risking a fine or in the worst cases a prosecution for dangerous driving. Badly loaded vans can also be unstable, meaning steering and braking are less effective.

In an accident, loose items from the back of your vehicle have the potential to move sharply hurting the driver, passengers and other road users. There are a variety of ways to safely secure a cargo in the back of a van including, partitioning systems, racking and shelving, lashing, netting and anchor points. If you’re not currently using any of these then frankly you’re being reckless with your life and other people’s. Ideally everything in the back of a van should be securely fixed, at the very least with rope or bungee cords.

Even with the right storage equipment, it’s easy to get lax about securing everything safely. It’s estimated in a 50 mile per hour crash, a single loose bottle of water can strike a driver with the force of a 21-pound object – that’s the same as a small suitcase being thrown at the back of your head. Imagine the damage tools such as spanners and hammers can do.

So, tidy up the back of your van. Make sure all your packages and tools can be secured safely and however busy you are, don’t ever leave those last few bits and pieces on the floor.

Posted: 21/03/2018 10:21:42 by Ryan Kneller | with 0 comments

As van operators, the health of our vehicle is always of primary concern – daily checks and regular services keep operators on the road and working at their peak. But how much attention do we pay to our own health, and those of drivers across our fleets?

Official figures show that men continue to die, on average, six years earlier than women, for physical reasons that are largely preventable. And the impact of mental health problems on both men and women are even more profound, with startling figures showing that people with severe mental problems die up to 20 years earlier than the general population – an equivalent or greater impact on life expectancy than heavy smoking.

Most operators will say that they have active, busy lives – but how much of their time is actually spent sitting down, in a van, driving from customer to customer, only grabbing an unhealthy snack “on the go”? Mark Cartwright, FTA’s Head of Vans has some tips that can help you and your drivers get into better shape without the need for a personal trainer (although they can also be beneficial!):

  • Keeping physically active is proven to help reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and boosts self-esteem, helps concentration and sleeping. Try to do at least two hours of moderate intensity activity a week – take a half hour walk over lunchtime, or after work, to destress, as well as improving your circulation and general well-being.
  • It is always easy to grab a snack on the go – but make sure it isn’t full of hidden salt and sugar. Try to get into the habit of making lunch for yourself before you leave the house, and instead of picking up a bar of chocolate for an energy hit mid-afternoon, try a banana, which releases sugars into the bloodstream steadily after eating.
  • Caffeine is something that many of us rely on to keep alert during the day – but drink too much of it and it creates a vicious circle which can ruin your sleep patterns and make you increasingly reliant on it during the day. Try not to drink coffee from mid-afternoon onwards, and replace caffeinated energy drinks with squash or water to ensure you get a good night’s sleep: your body will thank you.
  • One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives, and many will keep the problem hidden for fear of being stigmatised. Encourage your team to talk about their issues, with colleagues or management, and continue to support them as they seek help from professionals. Sometimes the offer of help is all the safety net that they will require.

This year’s Van Excellence Operational Briefings, taking place in April in Glasgow, Oxford and Derby, will focus on driver wellbeing and the effect that it can have on safety, compliance and performance. Find out more: Van Excellence Operational Briefings and book your place at one of the events.

Posted: 15/02/2018 14:56:57 by Ryan Kneller | with 0 comments

In a recent survey of AA members, tailgating was voted the single most irritating driving habit.  More than a quarter of motorists asked, said other vehicles driving too close made them stressed and angry. Tailgating is illegal and while it is always dangerous, it’s particularly reckless at this time of year, when there may be wet or icy road conditions.

Interestingly, research published last year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirmed that tailgating really doesn’t get you to your destination any quicker.  In fact, speeding up and slowing down in heavy traffic actually causes jams, particularly on motorways.

Of course, there are always some determined tailgaters on every road, whose aggressive driving style means they are quite happy to put their lives and others at risk.  But most drivers who get too close to the car in front are ‘unwitting tailgaters’.  They are not concentrating properly, or have an unrealistic view of their ability to stop in an emergency.

The stopping distances we all learned when we passed our driving test are for an average sized family car in normal weather conditions.  During the winter months driving conditions are rarely good and your van is probably heavier than a car.  So, as a professional driver, it’s vital that you take stopping distances seriously.

Stopping distances are made-up of two elements – thinking time and braking time.  Even the most experienced driver needs time to react to a hazard in front of them.  According to the Highway Code, when driving at just 20mph, it takes six metres for your brain to react and tell your foot to hit the brake.  At motorway speeds, thinking time increases to a staggering 21 metres. 

The braking time is the distance your van will continue to travel as you press your foot on the brake, before it comes to a halt.  According to the Highway Code at 20mph this is 6 metres, while at motorway speeds it will take 75 metres for an average-sized family car to stop.  A larger or heavier van will take even longer. 

The condition of your vehicle will also have an impact on stopping distances.  According to the RAC, factors such as tread depth, tyre quality and inflation will all have a dramatic effect.  The quality and wear of the brake pads is also significant.  Unless your vehicle is in near perfect condition, all these factors will reduce your ability to stop quickly.

Judging distance in practice can be difficult, but you can always use the two-second rule which is recommended in the Highway Code. As the vehicle in front passes a fixed point, such as a sign or a bridge, start to say the phrase ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule’ at a normal rate.  The words take about two seconds to say, so if you pass the same fixed point before you’ve finished, you’re too close.  Government advice says in wet weather you should double the distance and make it even bigger in icy conditions.

So next time you get behind the wheel, take a moment to review your stopping distances.  Check yourself with the two-second rule and make sure you’re not an ‘unwitting tailgater’.

Posted: 05/01/2018 16:11:22 by Ryan Kneller | with 0 comments