Study reveals van road risk

Analysis of more than 1.3 million police crash reports has shown van drivers face an increased risk in a number of areas when compared to all other motorists.

The study from AXA Business Insurance, which looked at crash reports between 2008 and 2012, examined situations where van drivers are at more (or less) risk on the roads than everyone else.

The most startling finding was about reversing – van drivers are a massive 142% more likely to crash during this manoeuvre.

Likewise, when they’re parked up, vans appear to be more of a crash target – by more than 40%. Changing lanes and motorway driving also came up as danger points for vans.

Richard Owen, of Road Safety Analysis, said: “We have to remember that while HGV drivers get rigorous additional training for driving a specialist vehicle, almost anyone can get behind the wheel of a van.

“Common manoeuvres such as changing lanes, reversing and parking are considerably more demanding in a much larger vehicle.

“We’ve all been taught to reverse a car; but in a van, visibility is restricted and the dimensions are very different.”

Tiredness, observation errors and long-distance motorway driving also came out as worryingly higher risks for van drivers.

Longer hours on the road overall, pressure from employers to meet tight deadlines and skipping breaks to get on with the job – all contribute to fatigue, says AXA Insurance.

It believes that the actual figures for fatigue-related collisions are far higher than reported, since positively identifying tiredness as a contributing factor to a collision is problematic for police officers.

Added to that is a low awareness among employers of their responsibility to prevent fatigue.

For instance, if a fatality occurs, the employer can be held criminally responsible under the Corporate Manslaughter Act. Although, according to a separate study by AXA of van-owning businesses last year, 45% of them hadn’t even heard of the term ‘corporate manslaughter’.

“There have been some excellent public awareness campaigns about tiredness in recent years,” said Darrell Sansom, managing director of AXA Business Insurance. 

“However, van drivers drive tired for business reasons, so the message has to be business based: ultimately, it doesn’t pay.

“The cost of a crash to a business goes beyond what’s covered in an insurance claim – you have drivers off sick, jobs put on hold or lost, reputational damage, and even serious legal penalties.”

The study also analysed how, in the opinion of reporting police officers, van drivers contribute to crashes.

Most strikingly, it found that van drivers are 47% more likely to be involved in a crash when they are tailgating than other drivers.

In the light of this finding, the report’s authors query whether enough is being done to address the dangers of tailgating.

While police were given new powers to penalise tailgaters last August, including on-the-spot £100 fine and three penalty points, the measure is likely to fall flat without assigning more traffic police to enforce it, says AXA.

So far, only 54 drivers have received the penalty – including, a negligible number of van drivers.

Sansom said: “Simply heaping more penalties on van drivers isn’t going to change driving culture on our roads.

“Let’s help van drivers to make the right decisions. How many know that stopping distances in a van are at least double those of a car? And that loads in the back can even quadruple that?

“Training and public awareness campaigns are crucial points here. We need to make sure professional driving courses are inexpensive enough and really do help improve day-to-day operations. If that’s the case, drivers and employers will be only too glad to take them up.”

However, the findings were not all doom and gloom; there were many areas where van drivers came out as safer drivers.

Situations which require a quick and confident reaction are ones that they seem to handle better than other drivers; for instance, negotiating roundabouts, heavy traffic and overtaking safely.

The study also showed that van drivers need to be extra alert when venturing into the capital: they are 22% over-represented in crashes on London’s roads than everyone else.

The Midlands, home to Britain’s central transport hubs, also comes out as a place where van drivers are at significantly increased risk of crashing.

Most worrying are the figures for the North East, where van drivers are 18% more likely to crash than car drivers and other motorists – not far from the levels seen in the capital.

Sansom concluded: “The nation’s van drivers play a vital role in our economy: many are the self-employed businesspeople who are driving growth in the UK economy; shift workers contributing to the construction recovery; and delivery drivers making the online retail boom possible.

“Our report shows that in many respects, they are also professional, confident drivers who come out better than everyone else on things like speed, drink-driving and handling heavy traffic.

“However, as a business insurer with a serious responsibility to help our customers reduce their risks, we have to raise the red flag on issues like tiredness and tailgating. We’re alerting the government authorities to our findings and discussing our recommendations for addressing these issues.”


When van drivers are more dangerous

Situations when van drivers are more likely to crash compared to other motorists

How  van drivers contribute to crashes compared to other motorists


Percentage more likely


Percentage more likely



Close following


Parked up                                    




Doing a U-turn                               


Observation errors


Changing lanes                              






Unsafe driving





When van drivers are safer

Situations when van drivers  are less likely to crash compared to other motorists

How  van drivers contribute to crashes compared to other motorists


Percentage less likely


Percentage less likely

Traffic jams


Nervous driving

  74 per cent



Control errors

   29 per cent

Towns and cities


Drink or drugs

 23 per cent



Speed choices

   20 per cent



Van crashes by region

Regions where van drivers are more likely to crash (compared to other motorists)

Regions were van drivers are less likely to crash (compared to other motorists)





North East


North West


West Midlands


South West


East Midlands
















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  • David H - 23/01/2015 14:36

    I take my life in my hands every time I try and get out of my drive because a van is parked opposite in the road - surely these "company" vehicles should be parked off road and not allowed to be the curse that the are.

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