Vans – safer than you think
The application options for vans are virtually unlimited. More and more vans are seen on German streets in the recent years. The number of accidents involving vans has also increased. Vans are therefore commonly considered as an element of uncertainty. A speed limit is considered to control their strong engines. An accident analysis performed by the Federal Highway Research Institute however has provided convincing arguments against a speed limit for vans.
Vans are superior to other vehicles in terms of flexibility, variability and adaptability. We know vans as station wagons, platform trucks, box wagons, cooling vans or dump trucks. Especially small vans with an admissible overall weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons are a permanent subject of public discussions on vehicle and traffic safety. The discussions soon centre on increasing accident figures, insufficient safety equipment, inappropriately trained drivers and excessive speed. Indifferent populist media reports, spiced up with images of individual severe accidents, fuel the public opinion against small vans in a way that leads to repeated calls for a highway speed limit of 120 or 130 km/h for this vehicle type.
The number of vans has in fact increased substantially subsequently to the abandonment of the speed limits for trucks with a weight of more than 2.8 tons in 1997. This increase mainly results from a growing use of vans by courier, express and package services (KEP). Short delivery terms, mail order business and orders via the internet have contributed to this trend – especially in Germany; the biggest KEP market in Europe.
Simultaneously to this growth, vans have become accident-prone. The total number of involvements in accidents has increased for all road categories between 1996 and 2001. But that is only half the truth. Evaluating the accident risk requires the consideration of the mileage (driven kilometres).
To clear the facts, the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) has performed a detailed analysis of the accident involvement rate – including separately collected mileage data based on the special evaluations of the "mileage survey 2002”. The results of these studies confirm:
- The mileage-related risk for vans with a weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons of being involved in an accident with personal injuries is two times higher on inner-city roads than on rural roads. On highways, the accident risk for vans amounts to only one eighth of risk value for inner-city roads, i.e. vans have the lowest accident risk on highways.
- The detailed analyses show that the mileage-related risk for vans with a weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons of being involved in an accident with personal injuries is about as high as for passenger cars on highways.
The Federal Highway Research Institute expressly emphasizes that the accident involvement risk for vans (2.8 to 3.5 tons) is slightly below the risk value for passenger cars and vans therefore – in relation to the mileage and even on highways – do not have more accidents than other vehicle categories.
The detailed BASt analyses therefore provide no solid basis for the suggestion, a legal speed limit for vans (2.8 to 3.5 tons) would significantly reduce the accident frequency and severity on highways.
German van manufacturers have always been aware of their responsibility and use the most recent available safety technology. Vehicles with a weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons have been equipped serially with power steering, ABS, TCS, brake assistant, driver airbag, 3-point automatic safety belts and pretensioners.
The load securing devices have also been improved substantially with storage space partition walls, rigging eyes in the storage space floor, rigging rails in the side walls or anti-slip storage space floorings. The safety equipment of modern vans therefore is on a very high level. Tires and brakes, which offer a passenger car standard already today, are being improved permanently.
However these activities of the automotive industry and vehicle operators are scarcely accepted, although these measures have helped to stop the increase of the accident figures since 2001.
Follow-up studies of the BASt for years until 2006 also confirm that no trend reversal has occurred with regards to the accident situation of vans with a weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons on highways for the years until 2006:
- With a share of 1.9 percent of the total accident volume, the accident situation of vans continues to be of little importance. For highways, the share amounts up to 4.4 percent.
- The significant increase of the total accident figures experience until 2001 has not continued since then, in spite of the continuing increase of number of vans (2006/2001: + 66%). This basically declining development applies in particular for the accident involvement of such vehicles on highways in total (2006/2001: + 11%) and with regards to fatal injuries (2006/2001: - 17%).
- In 2006, most of the accidents involving vans were recorded in inner cities (58%), followed by country roads (28%) and highways (14%). While a strong increase of accidents involving vans could be noted for inner-city roads (+ 30%) between 2001 and 2006, the increase on highways (+ 11%) and country roads (+ 7%) was significantly lower.
- Especially the more meaningful review of the accident load (accident participants per 1,000 vehicles of the volume) shows declining figures for vans since 2001 in total (- 28%) as well as on highways (- 33%), i.e. no trend reversal occurred since 2002.
Conclusion: The trend reversal in accident involvements since 2002 on the one hand and the significantly increased safety equipment of vans on the other hand do not support a highway speed limit of 120 and/or 130 km/h for vans with a weight between 2.8 and 3.5 tons.
All detailed accident studies confirm that the measures initiated by the automotive manufacturers and vehicle operators have contributed to a significant reduction of the accident involvement of vans in total and above all on highways.
The manufacturers therefore have met the requirement to increase the safety of vans and to consequently equip vehicles with a weight of 2.8 to 3.5 tons with the most advanced safety systems. In addition, they work intensively on additional driver assistance systems (lane keeping system, distance-regulating speed control), pushing forward the technical implementation of the latter.
A certification of the van drivers that documents an improved training with safety workshops, load securing and education, further supports this objective. The combined certification of vehicles and drivers will increase the van operation safety effectively. The van manufacturers represented in the VDA will push this initiative forward at short term. The target is to raise the attractiveness of available safety features and driver assistance systems for customers and thus increase the installation rate.