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  • Mark Salisbury

Free 'Toolbox Talks' for van drivers

Following the runaway success of its free, multi award-winning Van Driver Toolkit, National Highways has a series of “Toolbox Talks” – short, easy to follow videos, available through its Driving for Better Business programme – to help the growing number of organisations to educate their drivers who use light commercial vehicles.

The series of eight videos are being unveiled at a National Highways conference at the National Space Centre, near Leicester today (16 March) to a sell-out audience of fleet and health and safety leaders. The videos – each lasting around 8-10 minutes – carry important driver information and address the many misconceptions around van regulations covering:

  • Fatigue

  • Drivers’ hours

  • Safe towing

  • Distractions

  • Severe weather

  • Speed limits

  • Roadworthiness

  • Safe loading

The straight-talking video on fatigue says that one in five incidents is caused by tiredness and 40% of such incidents involve a commercial vehicle. It goes on to give tips to avoid drowsy driving. The roadworthiness module lands some powerful points on daily walkarounds: 39% of vans fail their MOT first time; 66% of all vans stopped at the roadside have serious mechanical defects; and of those, 85% should have been identified via a proper pre-use check. The section on speed limits explains the difference between car-derived vans and other vans, why they don’t have the same legal speed limits on single and dual carriageways … and that it’s a limit, not a target. On safe loading, the talk explains gross vehicle weight, kerbside weight and payload weight and the safest ways to secure a load.

Driver distractions explains the types – visual, manual, auditory and cognitive – that can all affect driving skill, as well addressing the use of mobile phones. The crucial video on drivers’ hours says there is a common misconception that driving a vehicle at or below 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight is not subject to restrictions. In fact, there are two different sets of rules that can apply and drivers breaking these rules can receive large fines and even custodial sentences.

The section on safe loading and drivers helps operators to understand the difference between gross vehicle weight, kerbside weight and payload weight. Guidance on the severe weather module will be familiar to all drivers but it also addresses the effects of high-sided vehicles on other road users such as motorcyclists and how gales and gusts can affect the handling of commercial vehicles.

The Toolbox Talks help to cut through the myths to keep drivers safe, vans legal and to ensure employers comply with not just road traffic legislation but also their Health and Safety at Work responsibilities. Each video also has a short quiz at the end to help drivers check their understanding of what they’ve just learned.

Many employers are unaware that driving a vehicle for work is clearly covered by Health and Safety rules. The Toolbox Talks can be accessed by fleet operators and anyone who employs van drivers in their business.

“The Toolbox Talks are aimed at the huge number of van operators who may not have the in-house expertise or resources and have a hazy understanding of the law,” says Mark Cartwright, Head of the Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention Team at National Highways.

Lack of awareness is a major issue, he says. “When HGVs are pulled over by the DVSA, the driver is usually aware what’s gone wrong. With van drivers, they often say they simply weren’t aware of the law. But it’s worth knowing that 89% of vans stopped by DVSA are overloaded, and the average fine per overloading offence is around £972. Ignorance is no defence.

“We’re delighted with the impact our free Van Driver Toolkit resource is having in raising awareness of safety and compliance with van operators and their drivers, which was accessed 21,800 times in 2022 - and 46,009 times overall. PDFs of the Toolkit were downloaded 842 times in 2022 and 6152 overall. We’ve been listening to their feedback which is why we’re now releasing this series of ready-made toolbox talks. We’re sure operators will find this useful.”

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