Highways England’s Mark Cartwright talks to Van User about the organisation’s increased focus on light commercial vehicle users
The UK’s van fleet is growing rapidly, despite a drop in sales during 2020. By the end of 2019, Government figures put the UK van park at around 4.1m vehicles, between them covering up to 55.5bn miles a year. Vans have become an increasingly visible part of the overall commercial fleet and, like any other type of vehicle, they are involved in accidents.
For many years, Highways England’s Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention Team has perhaps focussed more on the truck sector than the lighter commercial market. Truck accidents after all, tend to be far more visible and have more serious consequences.
“Vans crash regularly too, but it tends to not be as big as an HGV,” said Mark Cartwright, head of the Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention team.
“But there are a lot of them, so we are adding an increased focus on vans.”
That doesn’t just mean enforcement though, as the team is equally interested in prevention, through increased dialogue and driver education. Indeed, Cartwright and his five-person delivery team, would far rather talk to companies and drivers to work together to prevent accidents, than be involved in enforcement measures.
“It’s all about people. A van or a truck doesn’t crash itself or overload itself. We know that truck drivers are highly trained, but are van drivers? We want to encourage that,” said Cartwright.
Through Highways England’s Driving For Better Business brand, the team is launching a series of Van Driver Toolkits, covering more than 30 different topics, from vehicle roadworthiness and speed limits, through to drivers’ hours and vehicle awareness. These toolkits will be made available to larger fleet operators, to distribute to their drivers, but are also offered to small to medium companies free of charge. Cartwright is also keen to use what he calls the power of procurement, to push businesses to ask questions of their own suppliers.
“All of these drivers work for someone. These people need to make sure their suppliers are running legally,” he said.
“We want to position Highways England as a trusted voice in the van space as well as the truck space. We want to improve understanding and knowledge.”
He is also keen to promote driver health, mental as well as physical. At a time when more than 75% of suicides are among young men and lone commercial vehicle drivers are 20% more likely to commit suicide, the team is working with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to make sure that drivers know how to look after themselves and how to ask for help if they are struggling.
CALM has developed a range of CALMDriver graphics and informative leaflets as well as putting together several videos, that demonstrate to drivers just how important it can be to check on their own health, as well as the condition of their vans. They also provide a first contact point for drivers that might be struggling, particularly through the third UK lockdown.
Of course, while Cartwright is keen to interact with companies and their van drivers in a positive way, enforcement remains a vital component of the team’s activities. Though Highways England has no enforcement powers of its own, it does work with Police forces around the country and with DVSA, to prevent dangerous vehicle use on the roads.
This includes using WheelRight drive-over tyre management systems at operators’ bases and at ports, that instantly assess tyre condition and axle weights. Initially used to monitor heavy goods vehicles, Highways England is working on a mobile kit that will assess the tyres of vans and light trucks up to 7.5-tonnes.
The team also operates three white DAF tractor units, that it loans to Police forces. Running on major motorways, these trucks operate as elevated observation platforms, allowing the officers on-board to see into and video other trucks, vans and more recently cars that may be overtaking in outer lanes. As well as having high-definition cameras on-board, the officers in the cab can radio ahead to Police cars and bikes when required, to stop motorists. Interestingly, less than 50% of prosecutions are trucks, while the most common offences are for not wearing seatbelts and using mobile phones and other devices on the move.
“They are not operating covertly, we do tell people where they are,” said Cartwright.
With that in mind, the three trucks will be in use as part of Operation Vertebrae on the M6 in May and again in Operation Orbital on the M25 in mid-November.
CAMLDriver information and the Van Driver Toolkit are available at:
Highways England is one of those organisations that we all know exist, but are perhaps not that clear of its exact function or remit. It is a Government company that plans, builds, operates and maintains England’s motorways and major A-roads, which together are known as the Strategic Road Network (SRN).
That’s around 4,300 miles of motorway and major trunk road that provide the core structure of the country’s road system. Scottish roads are similarly managed by Transport Scotland and roads in Wales by the Welsh Assembly. While 4,300 miles might sound like a vast network of asphalt and concrete, it actually represents just 4% of UK roads. However, crucially, the SRN carries up to 60% of UK freight.
Split into seven regions, Highways England can also be divided into the various divisions that handle road construction, maintenance and management. Within the Safety Engineering and Structures division is the Road Users Group, that includes enforcement, suicide prevention and the Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention Group.