THUMPING GOOD BOXER

THERE’S plenty written about the standards of driving in this country. Compared to the majority of other European nations, British drivers are exemplars of common sense, but there’s always room for improvement. And I have a way to instantly improve driving standards in the UK. It may not be very practical but it would certainly be effective.

Make everyone drive vans.

Given the reputation of white van man, that might seem like a step in precisely the wrong direction. But I’m not talking about the tiddly little hatchbacks with blocked up windows that put the ‘rat’ into ‘rat run’. No, I mean the Ford Transits, Renault Masters, Peugeot Boxers and Vauxhall Movanos that are designed, built and driven as commercial vehicles.

I hadn’t done much van driving until recently, but tradesmen friends kept on telling me how great their vans were. According to their accounts, the latest generation of mid-size vans were comfortable, practical, economical and above all, reliable. These qualities in turn created feelings of loyalty and respect in them. They talked about their vans the way they talked about their best friends or teammates.

So I thought I’d have a bit of that. I got hold of the latest Peugeot Boxer and wondered what would happen.

I started off a little intimidated by the sheer size of the thing, but soon realised that everything the van fans had told me was true.

The cabin was welcoming in a hale and hearty, slap-on-the-back kind of way with none of the mollycoddling fussiness of a car. You could really feel the clutch engage and the bass rumble from the diesel engine sounded like the chuckling of a prop forward who’s just told a dirty joke. It was as if you had a mate on board even when you were alone on the motorway in the middle of the night.

But there was one thing they had forgotten to tell me. Contrary to popular belief, driving a white van doesn’t automatically knock a digit off your IQ. In fact you become a much better driver than you are behind the wheel of a car.

There’s no rear view mirror, so plenty of wing mirror checks are a must. And you make sure they are positioned perfectly with an attention to detail previously unheard of. After clipping the kerb on your first corner, you realise you have to carefully gauge your line and road positioning in this longer, wider vehicle and that signalling clearly to the traffic around you becomes all-important.

You need to bear in mind the load you’re carrying and judge braking distances accordingly. In short, you have to drive properly, as a van quickly exposes all of your bad habits and sloppy practices.

So next time you are ready to curse white van man, think twice. Are you sure it’s him that’s breaking all the rules and not yourself? And if it’s still his fault that he cut you up or rode your rear bumper, the problem is not that he’s a van driver. The problem is that he’s driving his van as if it is a car.

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