• New study offers unique insight into crashes on Britain’s roads – stark warnings about dangerous van driving

    June 30th 2014. Posted in Van Insurance

    AXA Business Insurance, a major insurer of the UK’s businesses and commercial vehicles, has teamed up with Road Safety Analysis in a ground-breaking study of British van drivers. The study, using more than 1.3 million police crash reports from the period 2008-2012, found considerable differences in risks posed by van drivers compared to all other motorists.

    • Study raises red flag for van drivers about tiredness; employers also warned they could be held responsible for fatalities too
    • Tailgating: van drivers are almost 50 per cent more likely to be involved in a crash while “close following”
    • Good news for van drivers too: they emerge as safer drivers across several key areas
    • London and the North East of England’s roads see highest proportions of van crashes

    The study particularly looked at the 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 per cent 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 per cent. Changing lanes and motorway driving also came up as danger points for vans.

    Richard Owen of Road Safety Analysis, commented, “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.”


    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





    Parked up


    Doing a U-turn





    Percentage more likely


    ▲   142 per cent


    ▲   43 per cent


    ▲   39 per cent


    ▲   36 per cent


    ▲   19 per cent 



    Close following




    Observation errors




    Unsafe driving

    Percentage more likely


    ▲   47 per cent


    ▲  23 per cent


    ▲  16 per cent


    ▲   9 per cent


    ▲   8 per cent


    Where the buck stops with tiredness

    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.

    There is every reason to believe 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 per cent of them hadn’t even heard of the term ‘corporate manslaughter’

    “There have been some excellent public awareness campaigns about tiredness in recent years – ‘Tiredness kills’ is a message we’re all familiar with,” says 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.”

    When vans get too close for comfort – tailgating

    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 per cent more likely to be involved in a crash when they are “close following”, (i.e. 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. So far, only 54 drivers have received the penalty – including, a negligible number of van drivers.

    Darrell Sansom, AXA Business Insurance: “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.”

    Good news for van drivers – when they are safer drivers

    The findings were not all doom and gloom: there were many areas where van drivers came out as safer drivers – challenging the ‘White Van Man’ label. 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.

    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



    Traffic jams




    Towns and cities



    Percentage less likely


    ▼ 20 per cent


    ▼ 17 per cent


    ▼ 9 per cent


    ▼ 7 per cent



    Nervous driving


    Control errors


    Drink or drugs


    Speed choices

    Percentage less likely


    ▼ 74 per cent


    ▼ 29 per cent


    ▼ 23 per cent


    ▼  20 per cent



    How van drivers fare by region

    The study shows that van drivers need to be extra alert when venturing into the capital: they are 22 per cent over-represented in crashes on London’s hectic 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 per cent more likely to crash than car drivers and other motorists – not far from the levels seen in the capital. With the Department of Transport’s figures showing a rise in road accidents overall in the region in recent years, AXA and Road Safety Analysis echo calls for increased road safety funding in the region.



    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)




    ▲ 22 per cent




    ▼ 19 per cent


    North East


    ▲ 18 per cent


    North West


    ▼ 17 per cent


    West Midlands


    ▲ 13 per cent


    South West


    ▼ 17 per cent


    East Midlands


    ▲ 10 per cent




    ▼ 11 per cent


    Conclusion: “Van drivers are our everyday heroes – let’s help them stay safe”

    Darrell Sansom, Managing Director of AXA Business Insurance, comments on the report’s findings: “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.”

    Read our report on Van Crashes in Great Britain (PDF 1.57MB)

     According to figures obtained following a Freedom of Information request by The Telegraph in April 2014, only 54 drivers had received a penalty under the new scheme (penalties for tailgating include a £100 on-the-spot fine and three penalty points). The calculation of a “handful of van drivers” is based on the Department of Transport estimate that vans make up around 14 per cent of motorized traffic.


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    Notes for Editors 

     About Road Safety Analysis

    Road Safety Analysis is a specialist not-for-profit consultancy, built on the principles of social enterprise, which develops and delivers a range of evidence based road safety services. With extensive experience in the field and a wide range of specialties in areas such as analysis, insight reporting, social marketing and evaluation, Road Safety Analysis supports the sector with services that make a difference. With the continuing support of the Department for Transport, Road Safety Analysis maintain and develop the award winning online analysis tool MAST Online, providing crucial insight for road safety professionals across the country. For more information, please visit www.roadsafetyanalysis.co.uk


    Miranda Seymour, AXA Business Insurance, 02082466853/07966549413 mirandaseymour@mac.com

    Legal Notes 

    AXA Business Insurance

    AXA Business Insurance is part of AXA Insurance UK plc, which belongs to the AXA group of companies. With us, you choose the business insurance that's right for you. We offer public liability, employers' liability and professional indemnity insurance online to start ups, sole traders, self-employed people and small businesses. In addition we offer van insurance and landlord insurance. AXA Business Insurance also runs Business Guardian Angel which provides resources to help protect and grow small businesses.

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