Over time, anyone working as an owner driver in the delivery industry becomes intimately acquainted with their van. You know how it handles, you learn its capabilities and you get an understanding of how it brakes, corners and accelerates. But, here’s a million-pound question for you: did you know that having a heavier load in the back affects braking distances?
In theory, for the 50% of you who scoffed and said ‘well of course I knew that’, the other 50% did a bit of a double take and said ‘whaaat?’. That’s what the results of a survey carried out by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles found, at least: nearly half of all van drivers don’t know that one very important fact. Fact.
Now, for that ‘other’ half of people, if you work for a large company, shame on your bosses for not providing you with adequate training! However, if you’re an owner driver operating your own business, you’re trainer, manager, marketer and worker all at once, so there’s no shame – but here’s what you need to know.
The Heavy Truth
From here on in we’re assuming you weren’t aware of the how payload affects vehicle performance, so it’s back to basics.
To break it down simply, the heavier your load, the longer the braking distance. Volkswagen states that in their tests, which were carried out on their Caddy, Crafter and Transporter models, there is up to a 36% increase in stopping distance from an empty van to one carrying a payload of 500kg, driving at 30mph. In anyone’s books that’s significant, but for an owner driver who makes a living carrying loads of all shapes, sizes and weights, it’s a heavy consideration.
The tests, carried out at the MIRA Proving Grounds in Nuneaton, were undertaken at both 30mph and 60mph, to simulate a diverse range of driving conditions. The weight of 500kg was chosen, as it’s the average weight a van will carry on a daily basis. The results showed that:
•An increase of 33% (with weight) in braking distance equates to around two metres at 30mph
•At 60mph, the increase (with weight) was around 19%, which equates to five metres.
The Weight of the Highway Code
As an owner driver, it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date and compliant with the Highway Code, however, you need to know that the figures for stopping distances stated are based on a standard and don’t take the weight of a payload into account.
While of course you can’t be expected to memorise the effect every possible payload will have, the people from Volkswagen have identified the 500kg as an average across the board – so it’s a good starting point.
Your Driving Behaviour Matters
When you take the daily loads you carry as an owner driver into consideration, it’s not hard to see that in order to stay safe, you need to adjust your driving behaviour accordingly. Many incidents and even serious accidents are caused by insufficient braking, based on simple miscalculation or ignorance.
It’s not just payload that affects stopping distances – you also need to make sure that everything in the back of the van is secured correctly, because movement of items in transit can also be a factor.
Autonomous Braking: The Way of the Future
Currently, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles are the only manufacturer to fit all its vehicles with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB). With any luck, however, the technology will soon spread and become standard, because it has the capabilities to drastically reduce the number of accidents in the UK.
Until that time though, it’s up to you. If you take away anything from this article, take this: the bigger the load, the greater the stopping distance. Simple.
Norman Dulwich is a correspondent for Courier Exchange, the world's largest neutral trading hub for same day owner driver jobs in the express freight exchange industry. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.
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