True Gripes: Driving force: Express mail is not for wimps

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The Independent Online
I used to think that London's cabbies were in a lunatic driving league of their own. Not any more.

At a time when the Government is actively encouraging greater road safety through its 'Kill Your Speed' campaign, Royal Mail van drivers appear hell-bent on turning the capital's roads into a Daytona for Leyland DAFs. Even motorcycle couriers seem halfway competent by comparison.

Boy racers to a man, the drivers' rubber-burning, tyre-squealing antics strike fear into the hearts of car owners and pedestrians alike. Cornering at less than 40mph is for wimps, the speed limit and traffic lanes regarded with utter contempt. Other road users are seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and a red light has the same effect as waving a red rag at a bull.

It is quite an experience to watch a fleet of vans leave a Royal Mail depot. The noise is deafening as, doors wide open, feet to the floor, drivers throw vehicles around, overtaking and being overtaken in a testosterone-injected free-for-all. Convinced that the dusty old vans are in fact throbbing, red Ferraris, drivers delight in playing high-speed 'chicken' with each other as they thrash along the tarmac.

Outside the St Pancras sorting office recently, I watched as two vans hurtled past side by side, in a haze of diesel exhaust. The race ended at a T-junction, where one van peeled off left towards Kings Cross, while the other executed a screeching 90-degree turn across the traffic towards Camden Town. Neither driver seemed aware of, let alone concerned by, the presence of other motorists. Stunts like this are a regular occurrence in NW1, and the streets are certainly never dull when the mail men are on the move. Dangerous maybe, but never dull.

The drivers' saving grace is that the bright red livery of their vehicles, and the noise from the over-revved engines, gives other motorists and pedestrians a sporting chance of getting out of the way. Unsurprisingly, the Royal Mail refuses to accept that its drivers are a menace, and claims that they are no more reckless than drivers on any other large fleet. To test this assertion, a trial telephone hotline was set up in west London earlier this year. Mail vans carried a message which asked motorists to call the hotline number if they wanted to complain about the driver of the van. The Royal Mail reported that the level of complaints was 'quite low'.

All of which begs the question: why, if letters and parcels are being transported so quickly (and safely) around the capital, is the post still always late?