The Final Word on Van Regulation


Should commercial vans be regulated in the same way as larger vehicles above 3.5 tonnes? It’s a debate that’s boiling over within the fleet industry right now, where there’s a split between those who believe self-regulation is the way forward and those who think government regulation is the only way to ensure van fleets adhere to best practice.

A rise in home delivery operations and an increase in the number of vans and light commercial vehicles on the road is bringing the subject to the fore in many people’s minds, as it effects their daily lives. And it’s steadily becoming more and more of an emotive issue. At the 2012 Fleet Van conference 91% of the delegates agreed that Britain’s van fleet operators need to be more professional, and at this year’s Commercial Vehicle Forum there was much debate about how to improve the UK van fleet’s dreadful maintenance record.

“Vans aren’t covered by much of the legislation that their truck colleagues are subject to. That isn’t, however, any excuse for vans to be operated in anything other than a safe and roadworthy manner,” says Mark Cartwright, Head of Vans and Logistics Buyers at the Freight Transport Association.

“It will always be in the interests of van users, large and small, to aspire to the highest of operating standards. Failure to do so will not only add to the risks and costs they are exposed to but could also prompt government to impose truck-like legislation on to van fleets, with all that implies.”
Mark Cartwright, Head of Vans and Logistics Buyers at FTA

Why Regulate?

Where the two sides agree is that van regulation is needed. But a stumbling point is that many of the people that operate a small van don’t consider themselves as fleet managers. The builders, couriers, plumbers, bakers – these are the people that use their vehicles to get from A to B and don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the fleet or commercial vehicle industry. And this is the same for much of the home delivery industry – even companies that adhere to regulations regarding their fleet of lorries, but don’t do the same for their smaller vans.

What’s more is that many of these companies don’t use fleet management software to help them efficiently organise the running and maintenance of their vehicles. This puts the operators of these fleets at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to scheduling in necessary regular checks and monitoring vehicle usage.

“Vans don’t have to have an official MOT until they’re three-years-old,” says Sharon Clancy, Editor of m.logistics. “That’s fine if you’re the butcher or the baker and you’re only doing 30,000-40,000 miles a year. But if you’re a supermarket home delivery fleet, you’re doing 80,000-90,000 miles a year. So by the time that vehicle needs an MOT, it’s done a quarter of a million miles and it’s had no regulatory checks on it at all.”

The maintenance of vehicles is a huge issue, especially when the shadow of corporate manslaughter looms over all fleet operators, large and small. In a recent study by AXA – carried out among 300 businesses with vans – 45% weren’t even aware of the term ‘corporate manslaughter’. And, according to VOSA, the first-time MOT failure rate for vans is 50%, compared to just 5% for HGVs.

“The issue of the roadworthiness of LCVs is a big issue. Up to 3.49 ton GVW vans can be driven on a car licence and currently require no operating licence,” says Peter Shakespeare from the Road Haulage Association. “Driven, often at high speed over long distances, heavy vans (2.8 to 3.49 tonnes) are used in the same way as heavy commercials and often pose a greater threat to road safety.”

Time For Action

It’s clearly time for action – but what should that action be? Having annual MOTs is one solution and is favoured by both sides as a way of raising standards in the industry.

“Make them have an annual test in the same way trucks over 3.5 ton have an annual test,” says Sharon Clancy. “It could also be mileage based. Even the vehicle manufacturers say it should be mileage based.”

But herein lies the rub. While the industry seems to be united in the belief that action does need to be taken and that it should heavily revolve around vehicle maintenance and driver safety (making sure drivers take proper breaks and don’t spend excessive amounts of time behind the wheel), many people don’t believe the industry has what it takes to regulate itself and think that the government won’t introduce legislation.

“Regulation will never come from the industry itself,” says Richard Fry, the National Chairman of the Road Haulage Association. “Everyone will want to compete against each other and cut costs. It has to come from the government. But they’re openly saying they want to reduce regulation. So it’s got to come from Europe.”

However, those that favour self-regulation believe that the motivation is there and what’s needed, above all else, is education. Schemes like the FTA run Van Excellence are already trying to raise the standards of van operators, without the need for government intervention. But is an initiative launched by the industry for the industry enough?

“Van operators need to understand their responsibilities and learn from available best practice. I often see fleets, which have grown over time, struggle to reach the right standards – not because they’re cowboys, but because they don’t always know what they don’t know. They don’t see themselves as being in transport – they might be a builder or shopkeeper – but they are and their vans are probably the costliest and riskiest element of their business,” says Mark Cartwright. “Education and the sharing of best practice is where it’s at. It’s not difficult to make sure vans are roadworthy and drivers are competent – it’s really just the application of common sense.”

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Nov 27, 2013 | Posted by in News | Comments Off
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