The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has launched the Calm Van Initiative in a bid to address mental health issues among drivers.

The organisation is attempting to raise awareness of the problem and available support by offering an information pack to leasing and rental companies that can be issued to their customers when a new vehicle is handed over.    

The scheme is being run in conjunction with mental health charity Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably), which has been operational since October 2018 and the pack includes advice about where and how to get support for those who believe they may be suffering from poor mental health.

Information is typically supplied in the vehicle’s handover pack and costs £2 per vehicle, which the FTA passes on to Calm, and it is at the discretion of the leasing or rental company as to whether they absorb the fee or pass it on to the customer.

“We’ve engaged with the lease companies and rental businesses within the FTA, and with Calm, to create a mental health awareness pack, which the lease companies will attempt to have specified with new vehicles,” says Mark Cartwright, head of the FTA’s Van Excellence scheme, which has been designed to recognise excellence and improve operational standards.

“It includes a little bit of resource, access to a website with more details and the Toolbox Talk [the FTA’s presentation tool] that we’ll make available for companies to talk about mental health issues.”

Absolute hotbed

Prior to launching the initiative the FTA asked a number of members about the age and gender of their van drivers, who were collectively reported to be 99% male and around 75% under 45. According to Calm, suicide is the biggest killer of UK men aged under 45 and, when approached by the FTA, the charity suggested light commercial drivers could be “an absolute hotbed for mental health issues”.

The move also comes amid increasing publicity around van drivers’ susceptibility to such problems. In May 2017, Mercedes-Benz Vans published a survey of 2,000 LCV drivers, one in five of whom described their mental health as poor or very poor. A year later, another survey by the manufacturer claimed that 56% of van drivers believed there was a stigma attached to discussing mental health issues at work, citing a male-dominated industry as a stumbling block.


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Cartwright: Talking to lease firms

Similarly, Ford launched a campaign in conjunction with mental health organisation Time to Change in April, accompanied by an advertising campaign featuring a Transit driver and passenger, aimed at encouraging individuals to speak more openly about such concerns.

The FTA has also launched a Van Excellence app, which is primarily intended as a vehicle inspection tool but also addresses driver welfare. It serves as a replacement for paper-based vehicle safety checks carried out by the driver before a day’s work, in a similar vein to mandatory inspections for HGVs and, according to Cartwright, is fundamentally an efficiency measure: “Bear in mind that something like 80% of van drivers are based at home, handing a piece of paper into a traffic office or a gatehouse doesn’t work if that driver is at the other end of the country. For us, a simple, straightforward app that replicates what that piece of paper does is a no-brainer.

“A driver can fill it in [and], with a smart device, we can time stamp it, we can date-stamp it, we can even geo-stamp it if we want to and we can take photographs. We haven’t really tried to do anything more complicated than replicate that bit of paper, but just use the technology to deliver it.”

The app also asks users about their personal wellbeing and fitness to drive, which is a section they have to complete before they can proceed to the vehicle check.  

“[It] asks the driver to confirm, to the best of their knowledge, are they fit to drive today?” adds Cartwright. “We’re asking them: you’re not under the influence of drink, you’re not under the influence of drugs, you confirm that you’ve got the licence that’s required to drive the vehicle and you’re also confirming that, to the best of your knowledge, you have no medical conditions which would affect your ability to drive?”

Cartwright acknowledges that entering false information would render responsibility with the driver in the event of an incident and says an imminent update to the app would, at the operator’s discretion, add push notifications reminding drivers about the availability of mental health support and the importance of hydration during a day’s work. Notifications would be sent while the vehicle is stationary.

How much?

The app costs £2 per month, per vehicle and is available for Apple and Android devices and Windows phones on request. It can be downloaded from the Apple App and GooglePlay stores but users will require access to the FTA’s portal in order for the service to function, so interested parties are advised to contact the organisation at