Arm of the law reaches out to embrace van operators
06 November 2015
Author: James Dallas
Driving up standards of safety and security in light commercial vehicles requires greater trust and cooperation between the police and van operators.
That was the message superintendent Paul Keasey, chair of the National Road Policing Intelligence Forum, delivered to a gathering of operators, law enforcement agencies and sector stakeholders at a workshop held at the West Midlands Police Training Centre in Birmingham in October.
Keasey's goal is to work with members of the Freight Transport Association's Van Excellence scheme to reduce criminal behaviour and promote roadworthiness and sound driving through "habitual compliance" with the law and good practices, such as regular mechanical maintenance checks.
When it comes to stamping out the theft of vans and of their contents or components, such as catalytic convertors, or even fuel from depots, Keasey called on drivers to let their employers or the police know if they see any untoward behaviour.
"Every driver on the road is a pair of eyes and a pair of ears. They will inevitably be aware of suspicious incidents and even crimes taking place," he claimed.
"A driver's testimony can be supported by the growing number of cab cameras fitted to fleets."
With insurance industry backing, the police expects a growing number of vans to be fitted with both cameras and alarms in the future.
During the workshop it emerged that the level of information sharing within the industry is uneven.
Keasey admitted that in the past the police force has failed to share its knowledge of criminal activity affecting LCVs with operators, and a representative of one of the major supermarkets added that while it analyses incidents daily to determine whether they are part of local or national trends, it has not historically passed this information on to the police. On the other hand, the parcel delivery sector claims to readily share information of security issues between carriers.
The FTA has expressed willingness to work with the police in making security information more widely available and it was suggested it could spread the word through issuing regular update bulletins.
Keasey listed complicity and complacency as two factors aiding criminal activity. It is difficult for businesses to monitor sub-contractors and Keasey said those drivers sacked for not following procedures can easily find another job because "it's a drivers' market".
He believes drivers are often in the best position to see what's going on and should tell their employer or the police if, for example, they are being followed, in order to help stop organised crime groups. He stressed there has to be a will to tackle theft and claimed it is often too easy for thieves to get onto an operator's site without being challenged just through looking the part - by carrying a clipboard, for example.
Government-owned organisation Highways England aims to cut the number of people killed on the Strategic Road Network - motorways, trunk roads and major A-roads - it manages by 40% by 2020. It makes up 4% of the UK's road network but carries more than a third of traffic by mileage.
According to Katherine Wilson-Ellis, a technical adviser to Highways England, there were 2604 collisions involving LCVs on the SRN last year. She said poor driver behaviour was responsible for the majority of incidents, with the main culprits being drivers not looking (22%), not judging speed (17%), and tailgating (10%).
Repeat offending was also an issue, with 400 LCVs involved in more than one incident. Neglected maintenance saw one van break down a recorded four times and a further 11 break down three times, claimed Wilson-Ellis, who advocated driver training and compliance with safety checks to improve standards.
The FTA's head of vans Mark Cartwright argued against the introduction of HGV-style regulations to drive up van safety standards and said there was no appetite from the Government to commit the resources into doing so.
However, he encouraged the police to use their existing powers to increase the number of checks they carry out on LCVs they suspect of being unroadworthy or illegal.
He also advised the boycotting of firms using vans that do not belong to a compliance scheme, such as the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme or the FTA's own Van Excellence programme.
While Keasey encouraged a cooperative approach between police and van operators, he warned those falling short: "Without habitual compliance, we will enforce."