Cooperation between law enforcers and van operators can improve safety and security, according to the police. James Dallas reports
Driving up standards of safety and security in light commercial vehicles requires greater trust and cooperation between the police and van operators.
This is the message superintendent Paul Keasey, chair of the National Road Policing Intelligence Forum, delivered to a gathering of operators, law enforcement agencies and sector stakeholders at a workshop held at the West Midlands Police Training Centre in Birmingham in October.
Keasey’s goal is to work with members of the Freight Transport Association’s Van Excellence scheme to reduce criminal behaviour and promote roadworthiness and sound driving through “habitual compliance” with the law and good practices such as regular mechanical maintenance checks.
“We believe safety is intrinsically linked with habitual compliance with the law,” said Keasey.
When it comes to stamping out the theft of vans and of their contents or components, such as catalytic convertors, or even fuel from depots, Keasey called on drivers to let their employers or the police know if they see any untoward behaviour.
“Every driver on the road is a pair of eyes and a pair of ears. They will inevitably be aware of suspicious incidents and even crimes taking place,” he claimed.
“A driver’s testimony can be supported by the growing number of cab cameras fitted to fleets.”
With insurance industry backing, the police expect a growing number of vans to be fitted with both cameras and alarms in the future.
During the workshop it emerged that the level of information sharing within the industry is uneven. Keasey admitted that in the past the police force has failed to share its knowledge of criminal activity affecting LCVs with operators, and a representative of one of the major supermarkets said that while it analyses incidents daily to determine whether they are part of local or national trends, it had not historically passed this information on to the police.
On the other hand, the parcel delivery sector claimed to readily share information of security issues between carriers.
The FTA has expressed willingness to work with the police in making security information more widely available and it was suggested it could spread the word through issuing regular update bulletins.
Keasey listed complicity and complacency as two factors aiding criminal activity.
It is difficult for businesses to monitor sub-contractors and Keasey said those drivers sacked for not following procedures can easily find another job because “it’s a drivers’ market”.
He said drivers are often in the best position to see what’s going on and should tell their employer or the police if, for example, they are being followed, in order to help stop organised crime groups.
He said there has to be a will to tackle theft and claimed it is often too easy for thieves to get onto an operator’s site without being challenged just through looking the part – by carrying a clipboard, for example.
When it comes to road safety, Highways England, which became a Government-owned company in April 2015 (it was founded as a Government agency, the Highways Agency, in 1994), aims to cut the number of people killed on the Strategic Road Network (SRN) it manages by 40% by 2020. The SRN consists of motorways, trunk roads and major A-roads. It makes up just 4% of the UK’s road network but carries more than a third of traffic by mileage.
According to Katherine Wilson-Ellis, a technical adviser to Highways England, there were 2604 collisions involving LCVs on the SRN last year.
She said poor driver behaviour was responsible for the majority of incidents, with the main culprits being drivers not looking (22%), not judging speed (17%), and tailgating (10%).
Repeat offending was also an issue, with 400 LCVs involved in more than one incident. Neglected maintenance saw one van break down four times and a further 11 break down three times, claimed Wilson-Ellis, who advocated driver training and compliance with safety checks as the way to improve standards, particularly in detecting bald tyres, adding that 400 tyre debris incidents on motorways were recorded in 2014.
Wilson-Ellis said Highways England was also working to make motorways safer by improving verges with gravel edges and replacing trees with bushes to lesson the impact of collisions.
The consensus among those at the workshop was that overloading remains a serious problem within van-operating businesses.
“If it fits, get it in,” is the mantra, according to one delegate.
Other concerns were vehicle familiarisation, particularly for staff or sole traders who would not define their primary role as ‘van driver’, and the lack of health checks, such as eyesight testing, undertaken by companies operating vans.
The FTA’s head of vans Mark Cartwright argued against the introduction of HGV-style regulations to drive up van safety standards and said there was no appetite from the Government to commit the resources into doing so.
However, he encouraged the police to use their existing powers to increase the number of checks they carry out on LCVs they suspect of being unroadworthy or illegal.
“We need enforcement, not regulation,” he claimed.
He also advised companies and individuals to boycott businesses using vans that do not belong to a compliance scheme, such as the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) or the FTA’s Van Excellence programme.
While Keasey encouraged a cooperative approach between police and van operators, he warnws those falling short: “Without habitual compliance, we will enforce.”