Is the white van man stereotype true?
Here at Nationwide, much of our business is renting vans to trades and businesses all over the country. Whilst vans are used for private hire for house moves and similar, many vans are on our Nation’s roads for work purposes and are driven by workers from all walks of industry. The reputation of Britain’s van drivers has permanently been tarnished by the ‘white van man’ stereotype. But how true is this, and is this reputation only perpetuated by a myth?
BBC Radio 2 DJ Sarah Kennedy coined the phrase back in 1997 when describing the type of driver who cut her up at 4 am on her commute to work. Since then, the term has filtered through society and become the go-to expression for your average van driving tradesmen.
Indeed, most of us have probably had an encounter with a van or heard a story from someone else who has. And because of this, there is an expectation that a van driver will inevitably come too close to the rear of your car, cut you up or undertake you or even break the law by using a mobile device whilst driving or ignore the speed limit or traffic signals.
They say there is no smoke without fire, but in reality, are van drivers any more ignorant or aggressive on the roads than any other category of road user? With 4.1 million vans licensed in 2019 and over 55.5 billion vehicle miles completed by vans the same year, there seem to be many vans going about their business each day. But when you compare it to the 278 million car users on the road, surely, there is more chance of you encountering lousy driving from a car user?
A past study by the SIRC (Social Issues Research Centre) looked at the white van men and endeavoured to unmask the ‘man’ behind the stereotype. Whilst many believe white van men to be aggressive, dangerous, and ‘bully’ drivers, their study actually painted a very different picture. Many of the drivers themselves felt they were excellent and considerate road users, and a lot thought they fell foul of their reputation and size. They believed other motorists were intimidated into behaving differently and almost anticipated bad behaviour before it happened, therefore ‘retaliating’ by cutting them up and driving aggressively to ‘get in’ first.
The study also revealed that the emergency services, particularly the ambulance and fire services, hold white van men in high regard due to their quick response when emergency vehicles are trying to get through. It is cited the white van men are often the first to pull over compared to other road users. This could be due to their heightened driving position and their reliability on their mirrors, but maybe also down to the size of the vehicle, meaning they move over to allow the space (whereas some car drivers automatically stay put thinking they can ‘squeeze; past).
The ‘dangerous driver’ persona attached to white van men can also be rebuffed when you look at other safety statistics. An Axa insurance road study showed that they are almost 75% less likely to crash because of stalling, hesitating or other ‘nervous’ driving actions making them amongst the most confident and controlled motorists on the road. Researchers also believe that they are among safer road users with far a far lower accident rate for LGVs than other vehicles, and the rate of injury-related crashes is 3.8 times higher for cars.
Other research also suggests that the white van man stereotype is outdated. Often thought of as overweight, junk-food lovers, research for an article in the Independent found them to be much more health-conscious and actively keeping fit outside of their work environment. Their love of golf and rugby (an alternative to football), along with music and reading, also really changes the stereotype long associated with this type of driver.
Whatever you think of van drivers, though, here at Nationwide Hire, we really believe the term is as outdated as the black smoke, dirty vans these stereotypes supposedly used to drive. With many businesses putting a real focus on good road behaviour to maintain an excellent public image and many more vans being sign written and well looked after, there is a genuine focus on changing how society views this group of drivers.
So, the next time you think about nipping in front of a van just in case they cut you up or moan because one parked where you need to be, consider the facts. Bad motorists come in all shapes and sizes, but equally so do safe and responsible drivers. Don’t judge. Don’t stereotype. Just drive yourself safely.