Great Britain has many traditions. The red postbox, cups of tea, the Queen, and of course white van man. You will often find white van man parked across your driveway or about three inches from your rear bumper flashing his headlights. Both van and man, partners in crime, or at least partners in being a pain the backside! The term “white van man” entered local dialect back in 1997 when BBC Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy coined it. Everyone knew what she was on about and the phrase caught on. However, a lot has changed in 19 years including the fact that 5.7% of commercial van drivers today are women. Maybe it is time we challenged the stereotype?
Providing evidence in the witness stand today is the new Mercedes-Benz Vito, a van that drives more like a car than a commercial vehicle. Light control weights, a responsive diesel engine, and a steering wheel that is near as damn it from a Mercedes car. Gone are the days of vans simply being a large box on wheels, the Vito offers more refinement than your average hauler as well as some creature comforts such as satellite navigation, cruise control, and a reversing camera. Tick the right option boxes and it will even park itself. Of course it is still a machine of function and offers a plentiful load capacity, but with vans clocking up 48 Billion miles on UK roads last year, it is key to keep the driver happy in what becomes their office for much of the day.
Many businesses decide to go down the Mercedes-Benz route for vans as having the three-pointed-star on the nose of your vehicle does give a preconceived elevation of status. It is a brand of note and separating themselves from other “riff-raff” is appealing to premium businesses.
So that is the van, but what of the man? Sadly it takes more than a badge to prevent people from wincing when they spot a van behind them on a dual carriageway. I spent a whole day driving like a saint in this Vito to gauge public reaction. Instead of trying to calve my way through traffic I waited in line with everyone else. I didn’t park over a single driveway or on a double yellow line. I even let 6 cars out of a busy junction.
People looked bemused as if something in nature had gone very wrong, but to be honest many van drivers are just as courteous. Beyond most companies employing a policy to promote safe driving, van drivers today are better trained than ever before. If you think about it, do you remember the white van man that cut you up or the green Ford Mondoe that did the very same thing? A van sticks out like a sore thumb and so it is only human to generalise them as one collective. Truth be told, it is the minority of van drivers that keep this stereotype alive.
So there you have it… White van man needn’t be that demon hurling down the outside lane of the motorway.