Van drivers are risking accidents due to not considering the effect of heavy loads on braking distances, according to Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.

The brand has carried out tests with its range of vans, and found that carrying half a tonne of equipment in the back can increase braking distances by up to 36%.

The brake tests involved Caddy, Transporter and Crafter models carrying varying weights from empty to 500kg at both 30mph and 60mph.

At 30mph, braking distances increased by an average of 33% with the half-tonne load – equal to an extra two metres travelled.

At 60mph, the average increase was 19%, or five metres.

Despite these increases, a survey of van drivers revealed more than half could not identify how much longer it would take to brake when driving a loaded van, while only 17% knew the 30mph stopping distances advised by the Highway Code.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles director Carl zu Dohna said: “This research highlights a lack of knowledge that could prove lethal.

“Braking distances in the Highway Code are based on an advised standard and don’t take into account the loads that many van drivers carry. Our research highlights an important safety message that van drivers could really benefit from.

“Whether they’re plumbers, landscape gardeners or construction workers, our customers regularly carry half a tonne of equipment and need to be aware they need to adjust their driving style to avoid having a costly, and potentially serious, accident.”

Thatcham Research director of research Matthew Avery said: “This is an important message from a brand which is really leading the way in commercial van safety.

“We would also encourage van drivers to ensure that loads are well-secured, as movement of heavy items in the rear can also effect stability and stopping distance.”