Driving a van for the first time requires some thought. Although they are the same licence group as a car, there are some significant differences which can easily catch new van drivers out.
If you are a new van driver, or are about to become one, follow these tips from the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ RoadSmart division.
1. Sitting in the driving seat of a van may feel different to start with, because the driving position is not the same as a car – but you might get to prefer it. The main difference with most vans is the lack of a rear view mirror, although you will have two good size door mirrors. Take your time to get the seating position set up correctly before adjusting your mirrors, to give you the best view of the road behind.
2. Finding out where all the controls are and what features your new van has is vital. Just looking for the lights while you are moving can take your eyes off the road for a few seconds – and at just 30mph you cover the ground at 45 feet per second, so a couple of seconds to find the lights and you have travelled the length of two double-decker buses without looking at the road.
3. What are the van’s dimensions? Is it a standard or long wheelbase model? How tall is it? Will it get into car parks with a height restriction? Knowing the width and height of your vehicle will help in stressful situations where you might not know if you will fit.
4. When you load your van, make sure the heavy items are on the lower levels and tied down – not just so they can’t move around and damage other goods, but also because moving items can destabilise your van. If you are carrying any dangerous goods, make sure you display the right sticker on the outside of the vehicle and that your insurance allows you to carry them. Your brakes are designed for a full load, so they might be sharp and over-responsive if your van is empty.
5. The best way to drive a van is calmly. Rushing won't necessarily get you to your destination faster, but it will cause you stress, tempt you to take risks, and could annoy other road users.
6. Check the speed limit before you put your foot down. Vans have a different speed limit to cars and you need to be aware of them. Single carriageway roads on a national speed limit sign means 50mph for a van, and on a dual carriageway with a national speed limit sign it’s 60mph – both 10mph less than for cars.
7. Remember to position your vehicle carefully so you don’t create blind spots for yourself. For example, being at 90 degrees to oncoming traffic when emerging from junctions will give you good vision in both directions, especially important when crossing a dual carriageway. Also, when turning you might need to position a little wider at junctions to avoid clipping the kerb.
8. The final tip is to make a difference to road safety. Show other road users how a good van driver behaves. Be patient and friendly. If someone is hesitant, give them time and remember not everyone has your view from their driving seat.
“We are often guilty of stereotyping drivers by the vehicle they drive, and van drivers come in for more than their fair share of criticism,” Richard Gladman of IAM Roadsmart said. “With a little bit of preparation and effort, you can be remembered as the polite van driver who shared the road space nicely.”