Van operators have been warned that they are living a “charmed life” as the European Commission evaluates introducing HGV-like regulation for the sector.
There are a record four million vans on the UK’s roads, with industry predictions suggesting the total could reach six million by 2040, driven in part by strong growth in the construction and home delivery markets.
However, Mark Cartwright, head of vans and LCVs at the Freight Transport Association, said there were “challenges” with van replacement cycles extending and the average life of a model now being 8.5 years.
He calculated that there could be as many as 1.65m unroadworthy vans in operation. Figures from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) reveal a 49.7% first-time MOT failure rate and that 88.5% of almost 11,000 vans stopped at the roadside annually were overloaded, with 63% having serious mechanical defects. Such figures were “a red flag to legislators”, said Cartwright.
He told delegates at fleet representative body ACFO’s spring seminar A Van for all Reasons: “Vans have had a charmed life, from an enforcement viewpoint.”
The warning came after the European Commission hosted a road transport conference in Brussels last month, where HGV-like regulation of the van sector was discussed.
Henrik Hololei, director general of the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission, said that many of those attending the conference “supported that EU rules should be extended to these vehicles”.
However, he added: “The Commission has taken due note of the main concern of participants on possible administrative burdens of such an extension of EU rules.
“This challenge is also at the heart of the better regulation and important for a level playing field.”
The European Commission plans to evaluate whether and how current, relevant HGV legislation could be applied to LCVs, according to Nigel Base, commercial vehicle manager at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
He said: “There are varied reasons for the increased use of vans, one of which is their viability as an alternative to trucks. To what extent they are a direct substitute is open to question, but there is no doubt that a lighter regulatory regime plays a role.”
Cartwright added: “Fleets must lead, adopt and maintain good operational procedures.
“Vans power the UK economy and with great power comes great responsibility.
“If fleet operators don’t do it properly they will have legislation imposed on them.”
However, he added: “I think greater regulation of the van sector is unlikely; but the police and DVSA will become more active in enforcing existing legislation.”
The SMMT and others have been concerned for some time that high MOT failure and overloading rates for LCVs are not being adequately addressed by operators.
“The potential for some form of Operator Licensing regime for LCVs has been much discussed in recent times,” said Base. “To avoid this, the sector’s safety record must improve.”
Graham Short, fleet manager at Zip Water UK and chairman of ACFO’s East Anglia Region, believes business procurement will be at the centre of driving up operating best practice across the van sector.
Short, who operates 126 vehicles, of which 66 are vans, said tenders were increasingly asking for evidence as to how potential suppliers were meeting LCV best practice.
He said: “It is a risk to business if a van is driven badly or is in poor condition. A company’s image and reputation is at stake. Vans can be your best advert or your worst.”
Short issued advice to fleet operators: “Plan your van; assess the risks; ensure appropriate policies are in place with regards to driver licence and vehicle defect checks; work with suppliers and partners to support the van operation; give drivers a sense of pride; and future-proof van choices by being aware of the advance of technology.”