The Van Driver

flecc

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Oct 25, 2006
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A good friend of mine was employed for 11 years as a delivery driver on LGVs and pickups covering the southern half of Britain, also driving his own cars over that same period. A reliable, responsible and respected driver and employee, he was accident and driving offence free for the whole period, but had to leave the company when they relocated far away from London.

He obtained a van driving job and immediately found himself under pressure to achieve a high minimum number of delivery drops each day. After a short while and finding the demands impossible, he moved to another similar job.

There it was exactly the same, only this time he got sacked for failing to achieve the targets, so it was on to another similar job. This time, thinking perhaps it really was himself failing, he tried very hard to meet the target of 40 drops a day. On his third week, late afternoon, tired and desperately trying to complete the round, he misjudged and collided with a cyclist on a hump back bridge, breaking his leg.

Distraught, disgusted and ashamed of what he'd done, he instantly packed in the job and has never worked as a driver again. That was 14 years ago.

The moral is that there is something fundamentally wrong in the way we allow driver's wages and job security to be linked to their productivity and road speeds, and the accident rate is only as low as it is due to those driver's skills. Any company that makes unreasonable driving demands, and many if not most do, should be open to prosecution.

Too harsh? Definitely not, consider this. A driver in my area commonly covering South London and the whole of Surrey, often more, and expected to do 40 drops in a day has 12 minutes for each drop in 8 working hours. Allow 3 or 4 minutes at each drop for taking the item from the vehicle, going to the door, waiting for an answer and getting a signature, and he's got as little as 8 minutes to drive to each next job and find the address. In all of South London and Surrey! It's lunatic to allow this.

And for those reasons I hesitate to criticise van drivers, knowing the constant nagging pressures that they are under. Even more true these days since bosses are often in wireless or phone communication with them all the time, goading them on, and some of the vans fitted with satellite tracking so the driver is permanently watched.

Accordingly I do all I can to help van/truck delivery drivers on their way by making way for them, giving priority. And when I see one driving too hard and pushing his luck, it's the name of company on the side of the vehicle where the blame lies more often than not.
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rsscott

Administrator
Staff member
Aug 17, 2006
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Having worked as an Operations manager for one of the largest international courier companies I know too well the problems you describe from a shop floor and managerial perspective. I lasted a year before I resigned, disgusted at the way the company was being run (into the ground :rolleyes:).

Unfortunately that is just the tip of the iceberg, the rest of the logistics is just as ridiculously targetted. It was just all about the numbers, nothing else. Very sad as there were a lot of good people there.
 

Ian

Esteemed Pedelecer
Apr 1, 2007
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Leicester LE4, UK.
While I know for a fact that most drivers are under silly pressures that does not give them any excuse to drive in the ridiculous manner that some of them do. Racing at high speeds between red traffic lights or following dangerously close to the vehicle in front will not get the job done any quicker and yet I see this being done on a daily basis. In my own job I am under constant pressure to get to my next customer ASAP and yet I manage to do this without driving aggressively or intimidating other road users.

I realise that not all van drivers are guilty of this, I'm sure the majority are good drivers, and I also realise that the problem is not confined to van drivers, but as is so often the case, the very visible antics of a few get them all a bad name.

Recently I was talking to a van courier who had just delivered parts to me at work and I asked his views on the tracking device in his van, His reply surprised me as far from seeing it as a spy he saw it as proving to his employers that he was doing his job, saying that there was no longer any need to use the excuse "stuck in traffic" as the tracking system would prove that was indeed the case.
 

flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
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But that's what undue pressure does Ian, it builds up and makes people behave irrationally.

Some handle pressure better than others of course, and it's often those lower down in the employment stack who are the least suited to withstand pressure.

And that's why they have my sympathy and understanding, and those who generate the pressure get my condemnation.

I agree some welcome the trackers for the reason you've given, but it doesn't include those who get chased for only being where they are by a snarling bully of a boss.
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JohnInStockie

Esteemed Pedelecer
Nov 10, 2006
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Stockport, SK7
Good discussion this one, and I sympathise with both sides. My personal experience last week was of a white van driver in heavy traffic, blasting music so loudly I was looking for a boy racers car, didnt expect a van. He never saw me as he was too busy dancing in his cab (I noticed in my mirror). Luckily he missed me by about an inch as he shot past:eek:
 

flecc

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Oct 25, 2006
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Now that does sound like a nutter John, but who knows, perhaps that's his way of coping. I know many people find music relaxes their tension, though I find it disturbs and distracts when I'm driving. Then of course, he could have been "on" something, drugs being as common as they are these days

One thing's certain though, he'll come unstuck before long behaving like that. Just hope that if anyone gets hurt, it's only him.

Which last word prompts the thought of the risk of inadvertent sexism, since we also have white van women in this area!
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flecc

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Oct 25, 2006
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Too right Ian, and I'm even more glad I've already called it a day. The more I see of the pressures in some of todays jobs, the more I wonder where we are heading. Whatever happened to job satisfaction?

It's the health service that will be the most busy ultimately.
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C

Cyclezee

Guest
:(
Too right Ian, and I'm even more glad I've already called it a day. The more I see of the pressures in some of todays jobs, the more I wonder where we are heading. Whatever happened to job satisfaction?

It's the health service that will be the most busy ultimately.
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As an employee of the NHS I can vouch for what Flecc just said about being busy. Ironically, staff are under similar levels of pressure to perform as a delivery driver and cutting corners also costs lives!
 

JohnInStockie

Esteemed Pedelecer
Nov 10, 2006
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Whatever happened to job satisfaction?
Thats long since gone at many companies now Flecc. You are viewed as a physical resource in the same way as a chair or a pen.

I remember studying about the psycological contract between employer and employee, but in the modern world that agreement has been torn up, about the time 'personnel' became 'human resources', and their remit was changed from looking after the staff, to ensuring that the company was not liable for any compliance failures by forcing employees to complete any number of mind numbingly pointless questionaires so that they can say, '..Well he was trained in that and so it must be human error...'.

Its a despicable display of a lack of human emotion and sentiment.

sorry for the rant
 

flecc

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Oct 25, 2006
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No need to apologise John, a rant is fully justified.

It's clear that in the over 16 years since I packed it in, things have gone increasingly into that impersonal situation of people becoming commodities. It was already coming even then of course, starting with the "money is everything" and Thatcher's "there is no such thing as society" changes of the 1980s, but hadn't gone too far by 1991 when I broke free, "Human Resources" having arrived but still in name only.

It's the young I feel truly sorry for, I'd hate to be starting out in work life now.
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JohnInStockie

Esteemed Pedelecer
Nov 10, 2006
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Stockport, SK7
Where I work, you have to learn the companies 'Values', and the companies 'Beliefs'. You have to complete your annual review stating what you have done throughout the year to prove your adherence to these, and it must be written in a non-english, almost Orwell-ian tongue, otherwise your deemed to have failed.

Managers are told that in a team of 10, they need to have 3 exceptionals, 6 normals and 1 failure, and they have to adhere to this. Integrity is only classified as not taking a back hander, rather than your own integrity in performing a task, which no longer exists.

Its a under-resourced world where the one who shouts loudest is the one that gets heard.
 

flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
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That's truly dreadful.

The nearest to this I ever saw was a new managing director who attempted to get me to complete a similar conformity exercise by a certain time, which I ignored.

On receipt of his subsequent very strong warning memo with ultimatum, I replied immediately and in the negative with greater forcefulness. He went quiet, presumably valuing the benefits of my employment more than his new style principles.

I wouldn't have cared if he hadn't, I'd rather be unemployed than submit to that. But then, I've been a lifelong rebel with numerous similar confrontations, often with departures. It's my life, not theirs.

Obviously things have gone so far now that it's too late for any individual to make an effective point like that any more. With so many conforming, it would just be an empty gesture.
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flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
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:(
As an employee of the NHS I can vouch for what Flecc just said about being busy. Ironically, staff are under similar levels of pressure to perform as a delivery driver and cutting corners also costs lives!
That really is a double whammee, self generated as well as imported future workloads, truly madness.
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electric.mike

Esteemed Pedelecer
Jan 16, 2007
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grimsby
this is a can of worms someone has opened flecc, my early retirement was due to stress although a manager not a driver it was bad driving that made me seek help,my wife and i went for a day out in Lincoln a 40mile trip, when we arrived she said do you realise you never spoke to me once during the journey.
that's not me and its not our relationship but she was right i hadn't and on thinking about it i couldn't remember hardly any thing about the journey,not the usual not rembering a particular junction or set of lights but 95% of the drive.
i made my first visit to the doctor in 35 years he ask what had made me come, i said all i can tell you is how i feel most of the time, he listened and at the end he said you are suffering from stress( the problem that gave me was i didn't believe in stress it was only an excuse for failure) he went on to say the only thing i can do for you is sign you off work,which he did,and over the next few weeks i realised what stress was and how it ruins your life and effects your judgement in all decisions you make not just driving.
i was lucky over 30 years with the same company, a pension, and mortgage free.
we now both do agency work my only responsibility is to drive a new vehicle safely from the docks to a compound 2 miles away, but i would say don't under estimate stress it may like it did with me leave a scar, i cant handle responsibility any more, i panic at the slightest sign of it.
i guess somewhere inside of me i still think of stress as failure and i don't like to fail,also i know i must have created a stressful situation for my staff without knowing it at the time,so stress must be contagious.
mike
 

flecc

Member
Oct 25, 2006
45,941
22,582
Thanks for that account Mike, perfectly illustrating the way in which these pressures are evil and damaging.

I also know the way in which the stress due to undue pressure can cause it to be passed on to staff, something I was guilty of on two occasions during my employment years.

The fundamental failing in all this is the failure to recognise that mankind cannot be completely subservient to the needs of business. Mankind created business, and is therefore it's master, the basic needs of mankind's health and welfare must always take precedent.

Too many companies have lost their awareness of those fundamentals.
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Branwen

Pedelecer
Oct 2, 2007
97
1
I used to drive double deckers in Edinburgh, and left for very similar reasons. Timing points were far too tight. I didn't cause any serious injury to anyone, but when I got out of my bus after a near miss and saw how close I had been to running over someone's leg, I too gave up driving on service work.

Professional drivers are their own worst enemies in many respects though. If every single driver stuck to what was safe there would be no-one putting in performances that tempt bosses to raise the bar so high in the first place. There is always some fly-type that wants to be "better" than all the rest, though, and show off that the target can be met, without thinking the real target should be to have a standard across the board which is safe. They don't take into account the newer driver having to meet this standard, or the "luck" factor which means they didn't meet a situation no one could avoid at high speeds, no matter how good a driver they are.

The only advice I would give your friend, or anyone like him, is find a driving job in a large firm with an active union, that will force the employer to be the one to take on board a safe standard all drivers can meet. Or do what I did later, and drive for an open top tour operator or chauffeur service, where driving excellence meant more than speed.
 

rsscott

Administrator
Staff member
Aug 17, 2006
1,347
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.....There is always some fly-type that wants to be "better" than all the rest, though, and show off that the target can be met, without thinking the real target should be to have a standard across the board which is safe. They don't take into account the newer driver having to meet this standard, or the "luck" factor which means they didn't meet a situation no one could avoid at high speeds, no matter how good a driver they are......
How very true..one company I worked for complained that the drivers were useless. They were comparing each driver with a previous temporary employee who was 65, drove like an absolute lunatic and therefore achieved a large number of drops. This became the 'norm' which all other drivers were measured against. It became a case of 'well, old Ron could do it'. Trying to explain that excessive speed and taking no breaks is not conducive to a happy, healthy workforce just fell on deaf ears. This is the major problem I have with business and corporations..people forget their human side in the never ending quest for profits or cost-reduction.
 

hawkwind

Pedelecer
Jan 15, 2007
36
0
Being a former white van man, i agree that a lot of the problems are self made.

There were a few on the firm who never used to take a break.
If they had to take out the 7.5 tonne vehicles, they used to take the breaks for the taco when loading/unloading them, eat and drink whilst driving, then drive like lunatics back to the factory, and complain when they were given another job.

I know when i used to do the same rounds, that by taking the correct breaks, and driving sensibly, then the round would be the only job you would have time to complete in one working day.
The same people would then complain to the bosses, saying they dont know what i do making the job last all day (muppets).

Luckily though, the bosses at this particular firm knew the score as they were former drivers themselves so they would have known if i was not pulling my weight or sitting half of the day in a lay by, and always took on board any complaints.

Unfortunately i know that this does not seem to be the norm with a lot of other firms, a couple of drivers did pack the job in for more money with other companies, one was a very large company.
They were asking for their jobs back within a month or two of leaving as they were being forced to work long hours with no breaks.

I dont think i could ever go back to being a white van man again.
 

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