Last week's initiative to offer an advanced driving scheme to "white van man" was welcomed by everybody - except the people it was aimed at.

Nobody likes to be told that they can improve their driving. And when the news broke, white van men in their droves took to the airwaves in protest. I just hope that they were hands-free at the time.

They claimed they were being picked on - and that there are plenty of drivers who are just as bad.

Alistair Darling's initiative didn't deserve such a hostile reaction. There really is no such thing as a perfect driver. We all make mistakes - the only issue is how often. So any new education initiative for drivers is a good thing.

Mr Darling has backed the plan with a £1.3m fund for Safe and Fuel Efficient Drivers (SaFED). On the face of it this is a no-brainer. Surely no white van man wants to be off the road because he has been involved in an accident. It make sense to drive carefully, especially if somebody else is paying for the course.

If you think that a taking a course to prevent crashes is a waste of time, try having one - then see how much time and money that costs you. Mr Darling also pointed out the environmental benefits. And if that didn't connect, he also appealed to that bottom line.

He pointed out that a typical van driver can save up to £500 in diesel or petrol per vehicle per year. That saved fuel in turn means lower CO2 emissions, which can only help the environment and air quality for all of us.

So what does the course cover? One of the key techniques is the better use of gears. By avoiding over-revving and missing out unnecessary gear changes, drivers can not only reduce fuel consumption, they can also cut down wear and tear on the transmission.

These days, we recommend "block changing". Use the brakes to slow down, then, when the speed is right, choose the gear that is best. Brake pads are cheaper to replace than clutches.

Many larger companies are already aware of the benefits of occupational driver training. The trick is persuading the smaller companies to take it up.

Ford has recently joined commercial vehicle safety organisations to tackle the poor image of van users. It is offering commercial vehicle retail customers a driver training package worth £200, delivered by specialists Drive & Survive.

The Wise Van training programme culminates with an IAM certificate. Drivers user their own vehicles on a one-day course that covers the laden and unladen driving, emergency lane changes and skid control.

Norwich Union also supports the scheme with discounts for drivers who pass the IAM test. We would like other van makers to follow Ford's example. If, between vehicle manufacturers and the Department for Transport, we can turn white van man into wise van man, everybody gains.

Vince Yearley is spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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