Bringing van drivers under the same strict regulations as HGV, bus and coach drivers could help reduce the significantly higher injury risks among those driving for work.
The verdict comes from a new report published by the UCL Centre for Transport Studies that reveals a third of road deaths and a fifth of serious injuries are sustained in accidents involving a working driver or rider.
With van use fast-rising due to the existing shift to online shopping being exacerbated by the pandemic, the academics in the report have identified new trends and risks for occupational drivers and other road users involved in accidents, in order to inform policies and interventions to encourage safer driving.
The report, funded by Highways England and supported by RoadSafe, reveals that of 520 fatalities recorded by the police in 2018 from road collisions involving a working driver/rider, 432 (83%) of these were other road users. Working drivers and their passengers accounted for 88 fatalities (17%).
Between 2011 and 2018, 39% of pedestrians killed in Great Britain were hit by a working driver; classed as someone who is driving as part of their job, rather than commuting to work.
Professor Nicola Christie (UCL Transport Studies) said: “Our research shows that people who drive for work pose a serious risk to others, especially pedestrians. This is a worrying situation because of the rise in van traffic and last-mile deliveries as we increasingly shop online, particularly since the start of the pandemic.
“There is a clear role for the Government to lead on initiatives to bring the management of risk to the attention of employers and the self-employed, and reduce this burden to individuals and society.”
The researchers from the UCL Centre for Transport Studies and transport safety and behaviour consultancy Agilysis estimated that vans each drive around 12,800 miles per year, equating to 15.4% of all vehicle mileage with 20% of these miles being on minor urban roads. This follows a rapid increase in the number of vans on the road and the proportion of people working in the ‘gig’ economy.
The research with eight anonymous national strategic stakeholders, who each have expertise in road safety or a role in the management of occupational risk, also revealed confusion over new employment models which passed risk responsibility to individuals and a lack of detailed data around risk and effective interventions.
They also showed concerns over exploitation of workers and their working conditions and a feeling that the onus of ensuring workers are protected by health and safety laws should move to companies.
Alongside calling for van drivers to come under the same strict regulations as HGV, bus and coach drivers, the report says accountability for health and safety should be at company board level and there was support from interviewed stakeholders for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to put occupational road risk within their scope. It added that casualty data should be strengthened to identify work-related collisions.
Highways England said the research underscores its efforts through the Driving for Better Business Programme to raise awareness of work-related road risk to business leaders and their drivers.
Nick Starling, chair of the Transport Safety Commission Work Related Road Safety Forum, also commented, saying: “As a society, we rely on those driving for work. 29% of all fatalities, 24% of serious injuries, and 21% of all casualties are sustained when someone involved in a collision is driving for work.
“Vans and drivers are not subject to the same strict regulation of driver training, drivers’ hours restrictions and roadworthiness testing as HGVs and buses/coaches, while the number of vans on the road and people working in the gig economy continues to rise. This report highlights the importance of stakeholders across all sectors working together to understand and manage the risk better.”