At breakneck speed, White Van Man takes over the nation's roads

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White van man's reputation as a gearbox-crunching menace cutting up motorists with a flick of the middle finger has enlivened a million motoring anecdotes. He could soon be featuring in many more.

White van man's reputation as a gearbox-crunching menace cutting up motorists with a flick of the middle finger has enlivened a million motoring anecdotes. He could soon be featuring in many more.

Light van traffic rose by 6 per cent in the second quarter of the year and now accounts for one in eight journeys on the road, according to figures published yesterday by the Department for Transport.

The figures showed that light vans, which weigh up to 500 kilograms and are most commonly painted white as a base for company names and logos, are responsible for two thirds of the 1.5 per cent rise in traffic volumes in the past year.

White Van Man emerged from the economic reforms of the Eighties when the vehicle was used by small businesses and self-employed people in the burgeoning trades.

Motoring experts said the rise of light vehicles, led by the diesel-powered Ford Transit, was mainly the result of a boom in home deliveries of goods ordered through the internet or television shopping channels.

Sales at Tesco.com, the internet home-delivery service of Britain's largest food retailer, rose 32 per cent in the first half of this year, while Sainsbury's, the third largest, said annual sales at its internet unit Sainsbury's to You, had risen 71 per cent.

The phrase "White Van Man" was coined in 1997 by the BBC Radio 2 presenter Sarah Kennedy, is defined in the Collins Dictionary and until recently was a regular "vox pop" slot in The Sun.

Dr David Marsh, a social psychologist who did the first academic research into WVM for the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, said: "Van drivers have taken on the mantle of what sociologists refer to as 'folk devils'. He has overtaken even the football hooligan in the league of social undesirability.

"WVM is now most often viewed as a mobile thug and a dangerous threat to the decent, right-thinking majority. The basic idea that WVM has replaced the man on the Clapham omnibus as the voice of the common man is sound."

Such is the stigma attached to the white van that manufacturers have noted an increase in demand for other colours, giving rise to WVM's successor Silver Van Man.

Dr Marsh said: "Silver is now the second most-popular colour, if that's what you can call it. It has many positive associations. The silver van driver - or SVM - is telling us that he is a sterling kind of guy who is reliable, trustworthy and up-to-date. He is also telling us that in a few years' time he wants to be more than a one-van band."

The overall rise in traffic of 1.5 per cent to 80 billion miles will be a blow to the pledge by the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, to reduce congestion. The Government is spending £16.2bn over 10 years upgrading and widening roads to ease jams.

The latest figures, estimated using 180 automatic traffic counters on a variety of roads, showed that the number of miles covered by larger goods vehicles on motorways and minor rural roads fell slightly between April and May compared with the same period last year. But the number of journeys by goods vehicles increased by 1 per cent overall. Use of motorcycles and buses rose 10 per cent, probably encouraged by the London congestion charge.

John Thurso, Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: "The remorseless rise in traffic is the clearest statement of the failure of the Government's transport plans. These figures cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. The Government must come clean and tell us how they will achieve their targets of reducing traffic and congestion."

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