Top tips for new van drivers

This week’s tips give advice to all those planning on driving a van for the first time, or those who want a refresher, from IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards, Richard Gladman.
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. Make sure you take your time to get your 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 are vital, just looking for the lights while you are moving can take your eyes off the road for a few seconds – at just 30mph you cover the ground at 45 feet per second: so two 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 dimensions of the van? Is it a standard or long wheelbase, 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 your heavy items are on the lower levels and tied down, not just so they can’t move around and damage other goods but also 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 your insurance allows you to carry them.
Remember 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 around won’t necessarily get you to your destination faster but it will cause you stress and tempt you to take risks and could annoy other road users.
6. Before you put your foot down, check the speed limit – vans have a different speed limit than cars and you need to be aware of these. Single carriageway roads on a national speed limit sign means 50mph for a van (car-derived vans 60mph) and on a dual carriageway with a national speed limit sign its 60mph – both 10mph slower than for cars.
7. Remember to position your vehicle carefully so you don’t create blind sports for yourself e.g. 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 they might not be as experienced as you and remember not everyone has your view from their driving seat.
Richard said: “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. With a little bit of preparation and effort you can be remembered as the polite van driver who shared the road space nicely.”