By Mark Cartwright, Head of Vans and Light Commercial Vehicles, FTA  

How many of us carry on driving when we're struggling to stay awake? We know that 40 per cent of all car, van and lorry drivers do. But driving while tired is very dangerous; it's the cause of around 20 per cent of all collisions on the UK's roads. It is of the utmost importance, then, that businesses enforce a strict no tolerance rule to driving while drowsy.  

With the help of Marcus de Guingand, Managing Director of Third Pillar of Health, who spoke at our recent Van Excellence Operational Briefings, let's look at some warning signs  – some more subtle than others – that it's time for you to take a rest when you're on the road: 

  • Frequent yawning and eyelids drooping 

  • Straining your eyes to focus on the road 

  • Memory lapses or frequently hitting the rumble strips 

If you experience any of these symptoms, you are at risk of microsleeping – dozing off for up to two seconds – which can result in a total loss of alertness. And if you consider that a vehicle driving at 56 miles per hour will travel 25 metres per second, it's easy to see how dangerous microsleeping can be.  

Van drivers can stay safe by spotting the warning signs early and taking evasive action as soon as possible. But contrary to common belief, winding down the window, turning up the music, or talking to a passenger are not effective countermeasures.  

Instead, drivers should adopt a more long-term approach to fatigue prevention. Here are six measures recommended by the Third Pillar of Health: 

  • Obtain adequate sleep before a journey 

  • Avoid driving in the early morning 

  • Take a nap before a journey 

  • Change drivers (providing the new driver is alert) 

  • Drink a caffeinated drink and immediately take a 15 to 20 minute nap 

  • Pull over to a roadside hotel to sleep 

We'll be sharing a series of blogs on the topic of fatigue – watch this space for the next installment. In the meantime, stay safe! 

Posted: 01/08/2019 09:00:00 by Els Matthews | with 0 comments

By Mark Cartwright, FTA’s Head of Vans and Light Commercial Vehicles   

When confronted with the need to tow a load, it may be tempting to simply 'hitch up and go'. But this is a very unsafe approach; it places both yourself and other road users at risk.  

A number of best practice tips are identified within the Van Excellence Code. Here are five questions to ask yourself before you head off on your journey:  

1) Are both the towing vehicle and trailer suitable for the task? Trailers, in particular, may not have been used for a while; make sure you check tyre pressures and treads, as well as lights, to ensure they are roadworthy.  

2) Are you qualified and competent for the task? Many of us simply leap behind the wheel and drive, but don’t forget that those born after 1 January 1997 may need an additional qualification; check your licence to be certain you are permitted to tow a load. 

3) Have you overloaded the vehicle or trailer? It's very easy to forget about equipment that has been stored in the van overnight, but this can make a big difference to its weight. Make sure to check the weight of the vehicle and the trailer thoroughly to avoid overloading gross and axle limits when towing. 

4) Is the load secure? It must be tightly fastened to the trailer before driving away; remember to secure it for both forward/backward and lateral movements.  

5) Have you considered adapting your driving style? Many drivers forget their vehicle will handle differently when on the move. As the vehicle's weight has increased, so too will the braking distance. And do not make any sudden manoeuvres from lane to lane, as the resulting movement of the trailer can have devastating effects on other road users. 

As you are driving a vehicle with a greater surface area, remember that it is more likely to be affected by side winds and turbulence on motorways; the impact of these on the trailer can have a significant effect on the steering of a van. Take care! 

FTA's shop has a number of products specifically related to towing safety including DVDs, guides and straps to secure your loads. Check them out here:  

Posted: 01/07/2019 14:23:56 by Els Matthews | with 3 comments

By Mark Cartwright, FTA’s Head of Vans and Light Commercial Vehicles  

More than 400 delegates attended the 2019 edition of the Van Excellence Operational Briefings, which took place this spring in Derby, Edinburgh and London. As van driving is such a physically and mentally demanding role, drivers need the right diet, rest, support, and mindset to match. Here are some top insights and tips we picked up from two of our speakers at the event. 


Marcus de Guingand, Managing Director of the Third Pillar of Health, explained how tiredness impairs driving performance, by reducing reaction time, alertness and concentration. Ultimately, driving tired increases the chance of a collision, yet is a common problem, as the figures he shared illustrate: 

  • Fatigue accounts for approximately 20 per cent of accidents on UK roads and 30 per cent of fatal accidents  

  • Sleep deprivation affects the flow of blood to three areas of the brain which play a crucial role in decision making, attention span and the speed at which we adopt new information  

  • At any one time, 20 per cent of people in developed countries are suffering sleep problems 

Despite the connection between fatigue and vehicle collisions, too many drivers are taking risks: 40 per cent of car, van and lorry drivers said they have carried on driving when too tired and 10 per cent of people who own a vehicle for work admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the past 12 months. 

De Guingand recommends workplaces enforce a strict no tolerance rule to driving while drowsy, and foster a culture where drivers feel it is acceptable to take rest when required. 


A recent survey by Mercedes-Benz Vans UK found that 70 per cent of van drivers say work pressures severely restrict their ability to keep hydrated and stick to a healthy diet. This was the focus of the session by Susan Burry, a nutritionist at the British Dietetics Association, who explained why dehydration and poor nutrition can negatively impact driver performance.  She also offered simple and practical advice to boost health and wellbeing, for example, swapping fizzy drinks for water and preparing lunch in advance so is it less tempting to grab something unhealthy on the go.  

Posted: 05/06/2019 09:47:41 by Els Matthews | with 0 comments

A pre-use vehicle check should be an essential part of any effective roadworthiness strategy. That is why it has always been a mandatory requirement of the Operator Licensing System for truck operators and why it should be adopted by conscientious, responsible van operators. The importance of checking vehicles every day before they leave base cannot be underestimated; mistakes can be costly for everyone, so a rigorous compliance process is vital. 

FTA's Van Excellence scheme has a code of practice that specifically requires the completion of daily pre-use checks. Members of the scheme must prove they have a structure in place for drivers to record identified defects; these must then be assessed by a competent person, so they can be rectified as required. 

The team at Van Excellence recently launched a pre-use defect check app, which is available to download from the PlayStore and Apple Store. The app mimics the simplicity of a paper form, coupled with the ability of a smart device to share the results instantaneously with the operator, including photographs of any identified defect. If you are interested in trialling the app, please contact 

Key areas that require attention in a daily walk round check are the tyres, lights, steering, brakes and mirrors. These can be quickly and easily checked before setting off, giving reassurance that the vehicle is roadworthy and has no obvious defects. Employers should also put measures in place to check their staff are fit to drive. Licences should be regularly checked, and employees should be asked to declare if they are taking medication or have medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive. Both prescription and illegal drugs can impact this ability, as can alcohol, and it is the employer's responsibility to be aware of any issues. 

Membership of the Van Excellence scheme helps employers put these policies in place and share best practice with others in the industry.  Take the time before the van goes out on the road to do these checks, and you and your customers can be reassured that your operation is as safe as possible.   

Posted: 01/05/2019 09:00:00 by Els Matthews | with 0 comments

By Mark Cartwright, FTA’s Head of Vans and Light Commercial Vehicles  

Half a million UK drivers still use their mobile phones while driving, according to a recent study by the Department of Transport. This puts both the driver and other road users in serious danger; any type of phone use  – calls, texts, emails, social media and other internet use – is illegal and holding the phone in any way, even if it is just held between the knees, for example, is an offence.  

In a bid to curb usage, the government doubled the penalties for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving to six penalty points and a £200 fine in March 2017. Vocational drivers may even have their entitlements suspended by the Traffic Commissioner and newly-qualified drivers will automatically lose their licence under the points system. 

Using a mobile phone with a hands free kit can also be an offence if the driver is distracted or does not have proper control of the vehicle at the time. The penalty is the same – six points and a £200 fine – so employers should carefully consider whether their staff should be expected to take calls on the move. 

Drivers who use mobile phones are now also liable to prosecution for the more serious offences of careless or dangerous driving if it can be proved that an offence was caused by failure to have proper control of the vehicle due to distraction. Penalties for careless and dangerous driving are substantially higher than for the specific mobile phone offence. 

Employers, managers, colleagues and callers may be legally implicated when a driver uses a mobile phone as causing, permitting, aiding, or abetting the infringement.  

Posted: 08/04/2019 15:38:32 by Els Matthews | with 0 comments