Ever heard the Scout motto: “Be prepared”? Well, Lord Robert Baden-Powell probably never dreamt his famous words would be adopted by a nefarious villain in a 90s Disney film. But setting Scar and the Lion King to one side, it’s pretty good advice when it comes to your first time driving a van.
Driving a van can feel pretty intimidating, with worries likely to increase according to the size of van. Yet with the right preparation, getting behind the wheel of a van can be as easy as singing along with Hakuna Matata. Because y’know, it means no worries.
I just can’t wait to be king (of the road)
Presented with the chance to drive a van for the first time? It can be pretty exciting, right. It can also be a little daunting. But with our help you’ll see that driving a van can be as easy as riding a bike. With four wheels. And an engine. Anyway, before you rush to climb into the cab and set forth on your journey to be the king or queen of all van drivers from here to Pride Rock, here are our eight top tips for a safe voyage.
1. That legit, yeah? Make sure you always answer yes to this
Before you even consider driving a van, you need to make sure you’re legally allowed to. Standard driving licences permit you to drive vans up to a certain weight and with a specified number of passengers on board. Check your licence to see if the van you want to drive is covered, as bigger, heavier vans require additional qualifications before you can get behind the wheel. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re fully insured too.
2. Everybody look left, everybody look right
As soon as you climb into the driving seat of a van, things are different. Your vantage point is likely to be higher than normal, the seating position will be different and what’s that in the rear-view mirror? Oh, nothing – because there’s a bulkhead blocking your view out the back. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the cabin and the views you get when looking out, taking note of where your blind spots are.
3. Settle in for the ride
Once you’ve got a handle on your views, it’s time to set your seat position to something comfortable. See if you can alter the position of the steering wheel too, moving it up and down or backwards and forwards according to what feels best. Get to grips with where the gear stick is, then familiarise yourself with all of the controls you may or may not need. It might not be dark or raining when you set out but knowing how to turn on your lights and wipers if night falls or the heavens open is a very good idea. How could it not be? Check how to turn on fans for both comfort and de-misting purposes and be aware of where controls like your hazard and fog lights are.
4. Does my van look big in this?
Size really does matter when it comes to driving a van. You should also be aware of just how big your van is with respect to its height and width. Think you may forget? Write the measurements down on a post-it and stick it to the dash if you have to – you’ll feel pretty smug when you get to a low bridge or need to squeeze through a tight barrier like you’ll find at a car park or the tip. It’s also a good idea to adjust your wing mirrors so you get a good view down each side. This includes being able to see down towards your wheels, meaning you can spot any nasty bollards that may be lower than waist height.
5. Get a load of this guy
If you’re driving a van for the first time, there’s a good chance it might be because you’re hiring one to move home. Or to move a load of stuff around for another reason. If so, you need to be smart with loading your van. Place the heaviest things on the floor, distribute weight evenly, tie and strap things up as necessary, and ensure everything is as secure and steady as possible. And once you set off, remember you’re going to be heavy. This will affect your steering and braking, so drive accordingly.
6. Take it easy
Sometimes driving can feel like you’re in the middle of a stampede, can’t it? So when your vehicle’s a lot bigger than you’re used to, it’s important to take things slow. Now, we’re not saying you should crawl along at a snail’s pace. But don’t be afraid to be really gentle on the gas pedal, especially at first. No one expects vans to be quick, anyway. Maybe that’s why white van drivers have a reputation for catching us unaware?
7. Know your limits
Now, we don’t like to discourage anyone. Dream big, impossible is nothing, etc, etc. But did you know that speed limits for vans are lower than cars? A-ha! We thought not. The national speed limit for vans in the UK is 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual carriageways. In both cases, this is 10mph lower than the limit for cars. Sticking to this will help to keep you safe, as well as on the right side of the law.
8. Be cool
Driving in a calm, courteous manner means you stand the best chance of enjoying a relaxed, accident-free journey. Be patient with other drivers, and hopefully they will be the same with you while you get to grips with your new behemoth. Approach turns and junctions with caution, always indicate in good time and just be the model cool, calm, collected van driver we all dream of. Doing so can make your experience seem much easier and far less daunting than you imagined.
By following the above advice, you’ll be prepared and ready for anything.