23rd February 2017

How telematics can ease the ‘ticking time bomb’ of spiralling UK van traffic

In September of last year, the Institute of Advanced Motorists issued a press release labelling UK van traffic as a ‘ticking accident time bomb’1 based on a confluence of troubling figures identifying van drivers as relatively culpable mobile phone users behind the wheel and a continued surge in light commercial vehicle road use.

The DfT’s ‘Seat belt and mobile phone use surveys: England and Scotland, 2014’ statistical release2 revealed that almost double the percentage of van drivers compared to car drivers are likely to illegally use their mobile phones whilst driving, the figure standing at 2.7% for the period studied. Of those observed doing so, almost three times more were found to hold their phones in their hands rather than to their ears, perhaps indicating a furtive attempt at attracting less attention.

As award-winning road safety advocates we found these safety statistics worrying enough in their own right, but they became even more concerning when considered alongside separate DfT statistics highlighted by IAM RoadSmart showing that the growth in UK van traffic is accelerating relentlessly. The number of LGVs on Britain’s roads rose faster than ever upto H1 2015, growing a remarkable 4.2% over the preceding year3, compared to car and taxi growth at 1.1% and HGVs at 3.7%, whilst the percentage of buses and coaches on UK roads actually fell by 4.6%. Light goods vehicle traffic peaked at an all-time high of 46.9 billion vehicle miles, with van traffic between 2014 and 2015 increasing across all types of roads from motorways to B-roads, making up 15% of the UK’s entire traffic volume.

This prolific rise is commonly attributed to businesses switching from HGVs to LGVs in pursuit of cost savings and reduced regulation, along with taxation rules making vans more attractive even for some private motorists and, most notably, UK consumers’ indefatigably increasing appetite for gobbling up online auction bargains, internet purchases and groceries from the likes of eBay, Amazon and Tesco, supported by ubiquitous couriers such as Hermes and Yodel. UK traffic actually outpaced GDP growth at a time when online and home shopping grew by 10% year-on-year, admittedly resulting in a welcome 6% rise in employment within the road freight industry.

Fast forward a few months and the ‘Provisional road traffic estimates, Great Britain: January 2016 to December 2016’ report from the DfT confirms the unstoppable acceleration in UK road traffic as a whole and van traffic in particular, with a 1.2% year-on-year increase during the calendar year 2016 to a provisional 320.5 billion vehicle miles travelled on our road network5, with LGV traffic jumping by 3.4% to 48.5 billion vehicle miles.

With van traffic only expected to keep on growing in line with the rise in online shopping, supermarket deliveries and the like, and with concerns over road safety and illegal mobile phone use remaining a concern despite increased licence penalty points and more punitive fines, what role can telematics play in helping businesses to keep their drivers safer and their journeys more efficient?

One of telematics’ primary aims is to help make roads safer for all users – and with a quarter of all vehicle miles travelled annually in Britain being covered by people driving for work, improving company vehicle and grey fleet drivers’ driving styles is of paramount importance. Fleet telematics solutions, from more traditional hardware-based systems to cutting-edge smartphone app-based products like Appy Fleet, are increasingly helping UK businesses small and large to more efficiently manage their workforces behind the wheel, whilst simultaneously improving driver safety and reducing business drivers’ accident rates.

For businesses that utilise one or more vans, the men and women who drive them are the primary component that can bring about the biggest change in maximising vehicular efficiency. Telematics solutions typically comprise an online portal and a smartphone app, the two components working in harmony to provide a company boss or fleet manager with important information about the driving behaviour of each of their staff members, such as plumbers or couriers. At the same time, the drivers themselves will often be provided with clear and engaging feedback on how they’re performing behind the wheel, empowering them to improve their driving styles.

The end results range from fuel savings and more efficient commercial journeys avoiding congestion hotspots, to reduced driver risk, less stress on both employees and their vehicles, and improved road safety for all motorists at a time when the brakes are unlikely to be applied to the proliferation in UK van traffic.




Feature: Van traffic growth outstrips the rest