Van Drivers: How Safe Is Your Driving?


23 December 2015

It’s a stereotype we’re all familiar with: the so-called 'white van man' being loud, impatient and angry behind the wheel. But is there any truth behind the assumption that van drivers are more dangerous motorists than the rest of us? According to our analysis of five years of police accident data*, as well as a recent survey of UK van drivers**, it seems not.

The results are in

According to our road safety analysis data, van drivers – particularly those aged between 35 and 55 – are among the most confident and controlled motorists on the road. In fact, they’re almost 75% less likely than other motorists to crash because of stalling, hesitating or other ‘nervous’ driving actions.

Furthermore, van drivers tend to be safer in certain situations. They crash 20% less than other motorists while stuck in traffic, 17% less while negotiating roundabouts, 9% less while driving in towns and cities and 7% less while overtaking.

Day-to-day driving

In our recent survey of UK van drivers, we found that 50% are sole traders, while 23% are part of a partnership. With 74% driving between one and four hours every day, that's a lot of time spent roaming the nation's roads. And positively, despite clocking up plenty of miles, 82% of van drivers said they haven't had an accident in the last five years, while 94% haven't been convicted of any driving offences in the same period.

Of those that had received a conviction, almost half said the offence was speeding. Interestingly though, when asked whether they felt any pressure to drive faster for work, 78% of van drivers reported that their speed levels were 'no different' to how they would drive usually – while a cautious 8% drive more slowly in their work vans.

Room for improvement

The picture isn’t all rosy, however. Owing to the amount of time van drivers spend on the road, their risk of crashing because of tiredness is almost a quarter higher than for other motorists.

There's also the issue of work-related stress to consider, which can be a contributing factor in road accidents. Although 11% of van drivers reported being cool as a cucumber behind the wheel, and experiencing no stress at all while driving, the vast majority cited several major sources of stress. Here are the top five culprits, which certainly aren't unique to van drivers:

  • Congestion (50%)
  • Road works (44%)
  • Other drivers on the road (41%)
  • Volume of traffic on the roads (38%)
  • Breaking down (33%)

In good news, though, van drivers have developed a range of effective tactics for managing their stress levels. Just over half stop and take a break, or go for a tea or coffee to relieve stress. A further 59% listen to music to lift their mood, while 29% sing along to their favourite tunes.

Can music improve your driving?

The latest studies show that listening to music can keep you alert and in a positive mood, reducing the likelihood of accidents – but only if it’s music you like.

In 2014, scientists in the US performed a series of MRI scans on volunteers while they listened to different types of music. The results showed that playing songs the participants liked would activate a part of the brain called the ‘default mode network’, which helps us switch our attention between our thoughts and what’s going on around us. In short, good music helps us stay aware and think quickly.

We consulted Dr. Don Knox, an expert music psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, who agreed with the findings: "Listening to our favourite music, loud or quiet, can increase our engagement in activities like driving and can enhance enjoyment, performance and accuracy."

Our survey also found that 73% of van drivers get their music fix from listening to the radio when driving for work, while 36% listen to CDs and a tiny minority of 6% are still jamming along to much-loved cassette tapes.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director here at AXA Business Insurance, recommends keeping the head-banging to a minimum if you want to keep that record though, saying: “Our advice would be to enjoy but to keep the music in your van at a level where you can still hear what’s going on around you… and to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road!”

Looking at all this data, it's clear to see that the myth of the angry 'white van man' is just that: an outdated stereotype.

Find out more about keeping your van on the road with van insurance from AXA Business Insurance.

*AXA Business Insurance and Road Safety Analysis, June 2014

**AXA Business Insurance survey, March 2015 (310 UK van drivers)