January 26, 2020

The safer van

Peter Ringham looks at how technology is helping to make vans safer.

Tyres are the vital link between your van and the road surface. Fail to look after them, and the results could be disastrous.

Unfortunately all too many light commercial owners fail to check pressures and tread depths regularly, or inspect their tyres for foreign bodies embedded in the tread. That odd-looking bulge in the sidewall could mean the tyre has sustained serious internal damage and is on the verge of failing, and should not be ignored.

Aware that van tyres may be suffering from neglect, TyreSafe has decided to do something about it. The charity has launched a new campaign entitled ‘Britain works on tyres’ which is urging light commercial drivers to examine those vital pieces of rubber more regularly.

Recognising that a van with too much weight onboard running with under-inflated tyres is a catastrophe about to happen, it is highlighting the dangers of overloading too.

Overloading is the most common offence identified by the Driver and Vehicle Standard Agency, it points out, and can result in a fine of up to £800 or more. It also accounts for 70% of prohibitions – instances where the DVSA prevents a van from travelling any further until the excess weight is off-loaded – says the charity.

“We hope that by sharing this message with van drivers we can help affect a change in attitude among those who are not already treating their safety, and the safety of others, on the roads as their first priority,” says TyreSafe chairman, Stuart Jackson. “Britain works on tyres, but those tyres need regular maintenance.”

It is a view shared, not surprisingly, by Michelin. It encourages light commercial drivers to check the pressure of their tyres at least once a month, and before long trips, and to do so when they are cool to obtain an accurate reading.

By law tyres must have at least 1.6mm of tread depth remaining across the central three-quarters of the tyre, it points out, and all the way round. If any tyre does not comply with this requirement, then it must be replaced immediately.

If the tread wear looks uneven then it may be because the driver has hit a pothole or bounced his vehicle against a kerb, and knocked the wheel out of alignment. If that is the suspicion, then get the alignment checked by an expert.

Safety is not the only reason why more attention needs to be paid to tyres.

“Running on tyres below the manufacturer’s recommended pressures will reduce a vehicle’s fuel efficiency,” points out Michelin key account manager, Peter Wood. That means bigger fuel bills; and smaller profits.

Checking pressures in the cold and rain is no fun of course, which is one reason why van drivers do not always bother. The answer according to Aberdeen City Council is to have a TPMS – Tyre Pressure Management System – installed.

Michelin TPMS Light Fleet has been specified on 200 Renaults it is acquiring. Developed by UK technology company Wheely-Safe, it takes less than five minutes to install per vehicle says Michelin.

“With this system our drivers and technicians can check all of the tyres on a vehicle in less than a minute,” says council fleet manager, Willie Whyte. “When they are out on the road drivers receive an instant alert if a tyre is in distress through loss of pressure or an increase in temperature, both of which are often signs of imminent tyre failure.”

They can then stop when it is safe to do so, and summon help.

Fitting Michelin TPMS Light Fleet involves replacing traditional valve caps with TPMS sensors and auto-pairing them with a small, solar-powered windscreen display to provide visual and audible driver alerts.

A contact-less tyre pressure checker enables pressure readings to be taken without having to go the trouble of connecting a gauge to the valve. It also makes it simpler to check the pressure of the inside tyres on twin-wheel rear axles, which are harder to check manually and as a consequence more likely to lead to tyre-related downtime at the roadside.

The Renaults are a mixture of Kangoos, Trafics and Masters, and include chassis cabs with refuse collection, dropside and tipper bodies as well as vans.

Returning to the subject of overloading – it affects stopping distance and a van’s handling as well as being illegal – an overload indicator will be offered as an option in Peugeot’s Partner, Vauxhall’s Combo and Citroen’s Berlingo later this year. All three brands are owned by PSA Group and all three models share the same basic design.

A visual indicator shows when 80% of the vehicle’s permitted payload capacity has been reached leaving enough leeway for the driver and a passenger to climb into the cab without the payload being exceeded. If cargo keeps being piled in regardless then visual and audible alerts are triggered as soon as 100% of the permitted capacity is reached.

Combo Cargo is now available with a Surround Rear Vision Camera system which Vauxhall says allows drivers to see what is lurking in the nearside blind-spot as well as giving better vision to the rear.

There is no doubt that light commercials have become much safer in recent years, with some safety systems (ABS and Electronic Stability Programme for example) now mandatory, others available as options, and other installed as standard even though they are not compulsory.

Long-renowned for its stress on safety, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has been fitting Front Assist with City Emergency Braking to Caddy, Transporter and Crafter as standard ever since June 2017.

Front Assist warns the driver of the risk of a collision, and makes full braking power available immediately the brake pedal is depressed. City Emergency Braking responds at below 18mph, automatically applying the brakes if the driver fails to react to an obstacle.

A host of other items are now being listed by VW and by various other manufacturers including Lane Departure Warning (warns you if you are drifting out of your lane on the motorway); Lane Assist (actively keeps you in your lane); Rear Traffic Alert (helps you if you have no option but to reverse onto a busy road) and Cross Wind Assist (keeps your van stable if you are caught in a gale on an exposed section of motorway).

Attention Assist displays a symbol of a cup of coffee on the dashboard, a hint that you have been driving for too long, and need to take a break. It can be annoying, especially if you are rushing to make an urgent delivery; but you would be foolish to ignore it.