White van man: myth or reality?

Posted on May 2, 2011


The White Van Man is a British invention coined by a radio presenter in 1997 referring to the aggressive, abusive misdemeanours of the UK’s van driving population.

Image obtained from freefoto.com

A typical ‘White Van Man’ drives a large Ford Transit with a roughly folded copy of The Daily Mail on the dashboard and a face buried inside The Sun.

My personal experience suggests that this is a well founded stereotype, although I do not necessarily believe that it is solely confined to that colour of vehicle.

On countless occasions throughout my life I have borne witness to dangerous driving, swearing, swerving, honking and the classic indeciferable shout towards a passing woman.

I do not know what they expect to happen when shouting verbal diarrhoea at a good looking females, muffled by the wind and their excited schoolboy knock-a-door-run revving of the engine to make a speedy getaway.

Are they afraid that their technique is so potent that they would spend all day arranging luncheons and coffee dates?

As early as 1999 the BBC declared that this myth does not exist in reality.

‘Van drivers – once maligned as a menace of the roads – are actually polite and respectful, says a new report’

‘…a report commissioned by Renault UK for the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre, seeks to explode what it calls this “modern myth”.’

I would like to speak to the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre – not for long mind – to tell them one little story I have never forgotten.

Badly behaved

While I was working in Brixton, London, one summer, I was stood in the street near a pedestrian crossing. The traffic was held at a red light whilst a constant stream of people crossed the road, merrily minding their own business.

A couple of blokes sat onboard a giant white van suddenly decided to massively rev their engine and pretend to take off even though the light was still red.

Pedestrians jumped, screamed and ran fearing that they were about to become attached to the front bumper. There was indeed The Daily Mail on the dashboard and no-one wants to get close enough to actually read that!

The two jokers sat, trying to conceal their laughter as people were helped to their feet in the road, having literally dived out of the way.

I was working as a Face-to-Face fundraiser or ‘Charity-Mugger’ at the time, and even I wondered where their sense of decency had gone.

How to spot them

Well according to a recent Ford survey, they’ve narrowed down the White Van Man to a specific person.

‘Today’s definitive White Van Man is male, about 42 years old, married and wants to retire early. His favourite foods are curry and roast dinners and a significant number favour organic foods.’

‘His favourite drink is beer and he doesn’t smoke. Top factors in the job satisfaction stakes are client satisfaction and finishing jobs on time. He feels he is professional and wants to be perceived as such. Women road users are more wary of van drivers than their male counterparts.’

I think Ford has missed the point here. I am not sure many of the people I saw running for their lives cared whether he likes tikka masala or vindaloo (my bet is for the latter).

What to do

It has always played on my mind what the rational or expected response should be as a man accompanying a woman who has become the subject of honks, hand gestures and whistles.

Am I expected to keep a stiff upper lip, pretend like nothing has happened and forget about it?

Do I console her and apologise on behalf of my gender?

Or, do I let primeval instinct take over and chase down the vehicle with a big club?

Any answers to these questions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted in: The Odd Box