Light commercial vehicles – managing the safety and technology gap

Demand for vans grew in 2021, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reporting a 21.4% uptick in registrations on the previous year, far outstripping the 1.0% increase seen for cars.

After a slow start in 2022, as supply issues hit the market, the SMMT reported signs of recovery towards the end of the year, with registrations in the light commercial vehicle market up by 10.8% in September. Registrations for electric vans were particularly buoyant, with a 70% increase in September giving this type of vehicle a 4.4% market share.

Driving demand
Several different factors are driving this shift towards vans. Strong demand has come through from sectors such as home delivery and construction and, with fewer perk vehicles being offered in the corporate space, Allianz have also noted a slight shift in their books towards more vans.

The move towards electric vans is understandable too. Purchase incentives through the plug-in van grant, lower taxation and cheaper running costs have made these vehicles attractive. Additionally, as more zero and low emission zones are introduced, the appeal of electric vehicles will increase ahead of the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vans in 2030.

Switching to an electric vehicle can also send out a positive message to customers, underlining the business’s commitment to reducing emissions. There’s also much more choice now, as manufacturers look to meet this growing demand for electric vans.

Safety concerns

There are plenty of positives behind the growth in van registrations, especially those powered by battery, but concerns remain around the safety technology fitted in light commercial vehicles. Thatcham Research warns that as the safety technology on vans lags behind that of passenger cars, there is a huge safety deficit.

Its research found that on average there are 12 standard safety features in cars, including autonomous emergency braking, speed assistance and lane keep assist, vans generally only have one safety feature – a driver airbag.

Per mile travelled, vans and light commercial vehicles are involved in more deaths of other road users than any other vehicle type.

The risk of injury or death for other road users is higher if they are involved with a van than with a car. For car occupants, the risk is 40% higher if in collision with a van or light commercial vehicle, while, for cyclists, it’s 12% higher. Van occupants themselves are 7% more likely to suffer serious injury or death than car occupants.

Improving standards
To address this safety deficit and give other road users the protection they need, Thatcham Research is calling on van manufacturers to fit robust advanced driver assistance systems. Alongside this, and to highlight the good and bad performers in the van space, it’s also launched its Commercial Van Safety Ratings.

These ratings assess the safety-critical equipment fitted on new vans, giving scores ranging from ‘platinum’ to ‘not recommended’, based on the fitment rate and performance of active safety and anti-collision technology.

The 2022 ratings show that there’s plenty of room for improvement in van safety. Just one van – the Fiat Ducato – achieved the platinum rating, with four others, including Britain’s best-selling van, the Ford Transit Custom, getting a gold rating. The worst performer is Nissan’s Interstar, which received a not recommended rating

Managing light electric commercial vehicles

As more businesses switch to electric vans, there are additional risks that need to be considered. These include the skills that a driver requires to drive an electric vehicle but also the risks relating to charging these vehicles.
Electric vehicles have different features, functions and performance to petrol or diesel vehicles, so vehicle familiarisation training is prudent. For instance, while instant torque delivers differences in performance and power, especially around acceleration, the additional battery weight and regenerative braking mean that stopping distances can be greater.

Journey planning

Journey planning requires additional considerations in an electric vehicle. As well as the steps that would be considered in a petrol or diesel van, such as traffic conditions and taking breaks on a long journey, drivers of electric vans will also need to factor in the vehicle’s battery and the charging infrastructure. Are there suitable charging stations on route? Can breaks be aligned to charging opportunities?

Safe, secure EV charging

Businesses should consider the risks associated with charging when introducing electric vans. Electric vehicle batteries can be attractive to thieves so vans should be left in a secure location but there are also fire and electrical safety requirements to consider.

Charging areas must be well-ventilated and kept clear of combustible materials. Whilst data suggests that electrical vehicles are not more susceptible to fire risk than petrol or diesel vehicles, battery fires, when they do occur, burn hotter and faster and therefore can lead to other property catching fire and in almost all events lead to the vehicle being written off.

The proximate cause of an electric vehicle fire may be attributed to battery cell abuse or malfunction. Where fitted, ‘Battery Monitoring Systems’ continually monitor battery health and can reduce the state of charge in neighbouring battery cells limiting damage and potential for fire. It is therefore important that Fleet Managers establish procedures for warning light identification and reporting and their drivers are alive to the importance of monitoring the vehicles Battery Monitoring System warning lights to detect early signs of battery malfunction.

Discounted business risk support

Allianz have a comprehensive library of advice and information relating to all aspects of running these vehicles as well as material covering the risks associated with more traditional petrol and diesel vans, which are also relevant to electric models.

DriveTech offers an electric vehicle transition course to teach drivers about the differences between driving an internal combustion engine and an electric vehicle. Lightfoot also provides services for owners of electric vans, offering an electric vehicle management portal, so businesses can track details such as state of charge, battery degradation and simplify electric vehicle expense reporting.

As electric vans become more commonplace on the UK’s roads, it’s essential that their owners are aware of the risks associated with them. Well managed, these vehicles can provide a safe and energy-efficient option for business across the country.

We are here to help
If you are concerned about how this affects you and your business and would like support in assessing your needs, we are here to help. Please do get in touch for confidential advice and guidance.

This article was adapted from an article by Allianz which can be found here.