How to safely drive light commercial vehicles: an interview with traffic safety expert, Bernd Herbener

Today there´s a growing number of light commercial vehicles (LCVs) on the road. But, neither passenger car drivers nor lorry drivers, are aware of the recommended LCV safety precautions. Here, Bernd Herbener, moderator for traffic safety at Auto Club Europe (ACE), gives us all some invaluable insight and expert tips on improving safety at the wheel of an LCV. ACE is a leading car club in Germany that, in addition to providing roadside assistance, offers a wide spectrum of driver training courses, including driver training for LCVs.

Fahrsicherheitstraining für Transporter. ©ACE Auto Club Europa
Driver training for light commercial vehicles. ©ACE Auto Club Europa

Alphabet: What’s the biggest difference between driving a passenger vehicle and driving an LCV?
The main difference is the load carried at the back of an LCV. I frequently accompany police officers at traffic controls and often come across people who do not secure their load properly. Everything is simply thrown into the back – glue, tools, pieces of laminate, the list goes on – and off they go. LCV drivers have no idea how dangerous this scenario is. If an accident happens, or if they slam on the brakes, their load can be catapulted forward and hit the driver and passengers, potentially causing severe injuries.

Alphabet: What kind of safety regulations must drivers bear in mind when driving an LCV?
This question addresses a big problem. There is a single law in Germany and it leaves a lot of space for interpretation: you have to secure your load to ensure it doesn’t pose a hazard if you suddenly brake or swerve. Exactly how this will be accomplished is up to you.

Of course, there are plenty recommendations for professionals, but people are not legally bound to follow them. I hold seminars for various trade associations and inevitably one of the first questions is “What am I required to do?”, “Must I have a wall separating the driving cabin from the trunk area?” But there is no clear-cut answer: sometimes a solid grate, which has the advantage of not blocking the visibility, is enough; sometimes a wall is required. Also, a wall is not automatically more stable and protective than a grate: it must be installed properly to perform its function. Furthermore, a wall is not necessarily more stable and protective than a grate: it is only if it is installed properly to perform its function.

A big problem is that many LCV drivers – carpenters or other craftsman, for example – completely lack a separation between the trunk area and the driver because they want more flexibility. Maybe they need to transport a rug on occasion or install seats at the back for the weekend or for a holiday so the family can come along. Even if someone is a good driver, load can quickly become lethal when there’s no separation.

Alphabet: How do people respond when you tell them about the dangers?
People are very shocked. Typically they have never given any thought to how potentially dangerous it is to drive with their work materials and gear lying at the back. It’s my job to inform them about how they can make their LCV safer. Most are open and very responsive.

Alphabet: What’s the most common cause of accidents in LCVs?
Speed. An LCV isn’t designed to be driven at the same speed as an automobile, but many drivers forget this. They drive to work in a car, park it and take the wheel of an LCV. Then they drive off without adjusting their driving behaviour. That’s when accidents happen.

Alphabet: What can drivers do to reduce the risk of accidents in LCVs?
Slow down! And take a LCV driver safety course. It’s crucial to take one geared towards them because driver safety for LCVs differs from automobiles and lorries. Among other things, drivers learn how to use driver assistance systems in their vehicles correctly and thereby improve their own safety. This includes understanding both the systems’ capabilities and limitations. How to take curves, change lanes, or react when facing a potential danger is also part of the course. At ACE, we often use a LCV with training wheels to make the dangers tangible to participants. People are shocked to see with their own eyes how an LCV starts to tip over when it swerves going just 45-50 km/hour, on dry ground!

Bernd Herberner, Traffic Safety Expert, Auto Club Europe (ACE)
Bernd Herbener, Traffic Safety Expert, Auto Club Europe (ACE)

Alphabet: How can driver assistance features help LCV drivers? Which features are most important?
Technologies that are now common in passenger vehicles are becoming more and more popular in LCVs – after being refined to fit LCVs needs, of course. What’s personally important to me are features that help inexperienced LCV drivers. These need to deploy sooner to help avoid dangerous situations, like tipping over in a curve, succumbing to gusts of side wind on a bridge. Also, a feature to help LCV drivers maintain the safety distance between cars is important because an LCV needs longer to stop.

Alphabet: What role do alternative fuels like electric or hybrid vehicles play in LCVs?
Hybrid LCVs are increasing in relevance and recommended for people who want to use a vehicle of up to 3.5 tons. Fully electric transporters come into question for those with lighter loads to carry. Currently, a lot of research and development is going on in this area and it’s certainly a topic with a big future.

Alphabet: Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
Good advice is essential for LCV safety. If you are buying a LCV, ask the salesperson about the recommended safety options and have them fitted in your vehicle. Yes, it costs more, but your safety is worth it. Also, seek the advice of an LCV expert in a driver-training course dedicated to LCVs. If you have employees that drive company LCVs, offer them a driver safety course! Remember to inquire with your trade association to find out if they sponsor the course.

Thanks for the enlightening discussion. We encourage all LCV drivers and our clients to take Mr Herbener’s tips and advice to heart – for improved safety on the road.

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