Responsible operators are more and more treating safety as one of their highest priorities, and with good reason.

Accidents that could have been avoided either through the use of better technology or more intensive training can wreck lives. They can also result in extensive and expensive damage to vehicles and the goods they are carrying, missed deliveries, lost productivity and pricey and protracted litigation.

As a consequence, any van manufacturer that emphasises safety in its line-up deserves to be applauded. That is why we are happy to hand Mercedes- Benz our new Safety Award for 2011 for the strides it has made in this area with the Vito and Sprinter.

The safety options list is extensive. Fitted with disc brakes all round, both the Vito and Sprinter are equipped with adaptive Electronic Stability Programme as standard.

Designed to stop the vehicle turning over if the driver suddenly has to swerve at speed on a wet or icy road surface, it takes into account the size and position of any load that is being carried when it makes its split-second calculations.

ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist are standard features too. So is ASR, an anti-skid package.

A driver’s airbag is installed as a matter of course on both models, with passenger, thorax and window bags all on the options list. three-point seat belts with tensioners and force limiters are provided too – there is no question of middle-seat passengers being held in place solely by a lap strap – and a bulkhead is included in the price. That makes sound sense – if the driver has to brake sharply and the cargo slides forward, then it could end up cannoning into the cab’s occupants if a partition has not been installed. It may, of course, be possible to tie wayward loads down, and both the Mercedes light commercials have lashing points and non-slip floors in their cargo areas.

Large electrically adjustable exterior mirrors are included in the deal. So is plenty of storage space for all the bits and pieces drivers have to carry in the cab. That in itself is a safety feature too, because anything that is properly stowed away will not hurtle around the interior and cause an injury under heavy braking.

Depending on which model you select, you can specify Xenon headlights, not to mention headlamps with a cornering function that makes it a lot easier to see around bends at night, reversing sensors and a reversing camera. Cruise control that includes a speed limiter is available as well, as are automatic headlamps and windscreen wipers and a tyre-pressure monitor.

High-visibility front seat seatbelts represent a simple, but nonetheless effective option. If you are sending drivers out on a job then they make it easier for you to check that they have got their belts on when they leave the yard.

Highly commended for 2011 is the Department for Transport’s Van Best Practice campaign that is well worth perusing. It includes invaluable information on improving light commercial vehicle operational safety and on how to carry goods without suffering mishaps.