Top tips for first-time van drivers

If you haven’t driven a van before, it is perfectly reasonable to feel a little apprehensive about getting out on the road in a larger vehicle for the first time.

However, whilst the prospect of getting behind the wheel of a Ford Transit or any other van may be somewhat daunting, the truth is that most aspects of driving one are no more difficult than they would be in your normal car.

To help you approach your first van experience with more confidence, we have spoken to a couple of experts who know all about how drivers can stay safe on the road – both in terms of avoiding collisions and ensuring you do not suffer injury due to poor posture. Read on to discover some top tips which you will be wise to bear in mind on your first drive.

IAM RoadSmart 

40MPH sign on country road

We were delighted to speak with Rebecca Ashton, Head of Driver Behaviour at IAM RoadSmart, one of the UK’s most experienced and knowledgeable driver safety charities. Below, Rebecca explains more about the organisation’s activities and objectives, before providing a fantastically useful set of tips for first-time van drivers:

“IAM RoadSmart is the UK’s leading road safety charity. Formed in 1956, we’ve spent more than 60 years making our roads safer by improving driver and rider skills through coaching and education – our mission is to make better drivers and riders.

“Everyone at IAM RoadSmart shares this mission. Our qualified experts, our network of thousands of volunteers and 200 local groups champion our cause and help drive our vision – to be the best, most recognised provider of coaching and advice for all post-licence drivers and riders. We aim to inspire all road users to be the best they can be and enjoy driving and riding. We develop the skills of all licence holders through our advanced courses, business programmes and introductory sessions.

“We help businesses to develop their staff to become more confident, skilled and responsible on the road. IAM RoadSmart provides a range of risk management and training services, including e-learning, on-road coaching and seminars.

“Everything we do is designed to inspire confidence, respond to individual driver and rider needs, make our courses fun and drive road safety forward.”

Tips for New Van Drivers

Road at sunset

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 come 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 30 MPH 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 wheel base? How tall is it – will it get into carparks 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 because 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. 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 50 for a van and on a dual carriageway with a national speed limit sign it’s 60 – both 10mph slower than for cars.

7) Remember to position your vehicle carefully so you don’t create blind spots for yourself, e.g. being at 90 degrees 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 that not everyone has your view from their driving seat.

Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors

Couple driving van

It may surprise you to learn that one of the greatest risks to your safety whilst driving – and particularly for those who tend to be on the road for very long periods at a time, such as van drivers – is sitting in an incorrect position.

We also spoke to Sarah Tapley, a member of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF). Sarah, whose own website can be found here, shared with us her thoughts on what van drivers can do to ensure they do not put either their short or long-term health at risk by falling into the all-too-easy trap of poor posture:

“It is important to position yourself correctly when you get into your van, as poor posture when you are driving can lead to a lack of comfort and control. Sitting up straight is a simple starting point to ensure better driving posture and helps avoid backaches and possible back injuries; what’s more, it can also help maintain awareness during long drives.

“To be comfortable in your van seat, make sure your seat is the correct distance away from the pedals, with your knees slightly bent whilst pressing the pedal. Adjusting the height, tilt and angle of the seat can also help. Make sure you are not wearing a bulky coat and take your wallet or phone out of your back pocket to ensure you are sitting up straight. Make sure you take regular breaks, and have a good stretch when you get out of your van between jobs.

“Bad driving posture can result in extremely painful back and neck problems; you can prevent this by remembering to adopt a good posture, empty your back pockets of wallets and phones and take regular breaks”.

Country road

If you have been browsing what’s available at your local Ford Transit van dealers, the chances are you will already know what a good investment these vehicles can be. Whether you are a tradesperson launching your own business or just looking to move house, a good sized van can help you get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

If you are a sensible driver, there is no reason why taking a van onto the road should be any more nerve-wracking than using your car. So don’t let any concerns you may have hold you back – keep the tips we’ve discussed here in mind, arrange your van of choice and start planning your journey!

Image Credits: Patrick Tomasso, Felix Russell-Saw, Greg Willson, Simon Caspersen