In this section, we will cover all the potential pitfalls and issues that you may face as a self-employed freelance courier/owner-driver and provide advice, or direct you to other resources that may be of assistance in troubleshooting any problems that you may encounter.
As a professional driver, you will be driving on a daily basis and covering many times more miles than the average driver. It is likely that you will become a very competent driver. Unfortunately, it is also likely that your chances of being involved in an accident will also increase.
If you read our guidance on your insurance requirements, you will understand in financial terms why it is so important that you take every precaution not to be involved in road traffic accidents. Or at least, drive carefully, so that if you are involved, you are unlikely to be found to be at fault.
If you do have the misfortune to be involved in an accident, there are a number of things that you must do irrespective of who is at fault.
Not stopping at the scene of an accident, or failing to report an accident is a serious offence, which could result in a large fine, endorsements and possible disqualification and even prison.
The AA provide a comprehensive guide that details exactly what needs to be done in every accident situation, which can be found here.
Let’s face it, even if you love driving, there will be occasions when racking-up the miles on the open road can become a bit tiresome and, dare-we-say-it, boring!
So here are our top Six tips for avoiding boredom whilst driving:
- Take a break. Boredom can lead to drowsiness and drowsiness can lead to falling asleep behind the wheel, which can have disastrous consequences. Before you become another road accident statistic, if you have been behind the wheel for a while and become aware that boredom is starting to set-in, take a break. Park-up as soon as it is safe to do so and do something to change your state. This might be to have a good stretch, it could be to meditate, or take twenty minutes and have a quick nap, or it could be to get out of your vehicle, get some fresh air and stretch your legs, or any combination of these things. At this point it is worth mentioning the importance of keeping yourself hydrated, so grab yourself a drink while you’re at it.
Listen to audiobooks. It’s completely up to you what you choose. You could turn your vehicle into a mobile university, or simply listen to something that you find entertaining. However, any audiobook is going to massively help you to pass the time.
- If it is not an audiobook, listen to something else that is going to entertain and stimulate you. Obviously the radio is one option, but ensure that whatever you are listening to is actually entertaining and/or stimulating and not just background noise that could add to your boredom. Try downloading interesting podcasts to listen to. Additionally, listening to a comedian is always a good way to keep you feeling upbeat and alert. Finally, and probably most obviously, you could listen to your own playlists of music. But try to make sure it is stuff that gets you singing along. Research has in fact shown that people who sing out loud are happier, live longer and are generally healthier, so sing like no-one is listening. Chances are, no-one is (unless you’ve left your windows down!)
- Phone someone. Obviously you’ll be doing this hands-free, but having a chat with someone is a great way to pass the time.
- Mentally plan your day and week ahead. Take the opportunity to think through what needs to be done either later that day, or throughout the week ahead. Practising this simple discipline means you will remember to send more birthday cards to friends and family, if nothing else.
- Enjoy the drive. This may sound counter-intuitive, the driving is making you bored and now we’re suggesting that you enjoy yourself whilst being bored? What we mean by this is force yourself to be more present and what we mean by this is actually start to really take-in and appreciate your surroundings. Wherever you are there will always be something to see that is fascinating in some way, whether it’s the trees along the side of the road, the clouds on the horizon ahead of you, or even that flashy car that’s just zoomed past you, there will be always something. Just take the time to appreciate it and enjoy the moment.
Once again, if you are racking-up the miles at a rate of 4, or 5:1 vs the national average, which is likely if you’re keeping busy, it is inevitable that your vehicle will let you down at some point.
You would be very fortunate indeed to never experience at least one vehicle breakdown at some point in your professional driving career.
Irritating though it might be, when it does occur, it needs to be viewed as just being a regular part of the job. However, there are some things that you can do to minimise the chances of a breakdown in the first place and to also minimise the inconvenience caused if you do break-down:
- When starting out, funds may be tight, but try to purchase the best courier vehicle you can afford and ideally one that is still under some kind of manufacturers warranty. This means that until the warranty expires, there is a good chance that the cost of repair will be covered for you and it is also likely that you will get free roadside recovery.
- Be proactive about looking after your vehicle. If you hear a funny noise while the engine is idling, check it out yourself, or get it checked-out professionally. Also, don’t wait until your tyres are right on the legal limit (or beyond) before replacing them and make sure that your vehicle is serviced as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Keep a warning triangle in your vehicle to alert other drivers in the event of a breakdown because the last thing you need is to get hit by another road-user.
- Keep some spare clothing in your vehicle at all times. Often, following a breakdown, it will be best for you to stand clear of your vehicle while you are waiting for assistance. At times like this, you’ll be thankful for that fleece, or waterproof jacket.
Also, once again The AA have some great advice for motorist to observe in the event of a breakdown. Please find a link here.
Lack of Work
Ask anyone who is self-employed and they will tell you that there are periods of time when they are rushed off their feet and there are times when things are quiet.
It is likely that this is an issue that you will experience this at some point in your career. When things are quiet, it is best to start by asking yourself the question “why?”
Here are some further related (and probing) questions that you would do well to ask yourself:
- Are you entrusting the provision of all your work to just one courier company?
Are you rejecting particular job offers because it involves work (or people) that you don’t like?
Are you registered with an online courier platform (e.g. Anyvan), or do you have alternate back-up sources of work?
Have you asked for feedback from customers about your own performance?
If you have received negative feedback, have you taken action to correct the cause of that negative feedback?
Are you proactively looking for work, if work is not being offered to you?
Answer these questions honestly and you might start to identify reasons why work is currently thin on the ground and therefore be able to do something about it.
It is crucial at times like this that you don’t fall into the blame trap and start to look for someone, or something to blame for your lack of work.
This attitude can severely disempower you. As a self-employed person, you are ultimately responsible for the amount of work you get.
When you start to blame outside sources for problems and you start telling yourself that ‘they’, or ‘it’ are the problem, you will start to believe that there is nothing that you can do about it.
Ultimately, you will get what you tolerate! Don’t be your own worst enemy!
Instead, become activity driven (excuse the pun). When work is quiet, use it as an opportunity to review your operation and check that you are providing what your customers are looking for:
- Is your van clean and roadworthy?
- Do you look professional?
- Actively get yourself out there looking for more work with other people and other companies.
- Don’t be overly loyal to an existing company, if they are not providing you with sufficient work.
Snow, Ice and Bad Weather
For some advice on tackling winter-driving issues, please check-out our Blog.
Other potential weather related issues can manifest themselves in the following forms:
- Wet weather is not only unpleasant, when working, it can also affect your stopping distances. The trusty-AA’s advice is to double the distance between yourself and the vehicle in front, when the roads are wet. Additionally, if you do find that your steering becomes unresponsive in wet conditions, slow down s-l-o-w-l-y, as breaking heavily will just send you into a skid.
- High winds are something that you need to be especially aware of, as you can’t really see it, but it can definitely cause you problems and the larger the vehicle you drive, the more impact the wind can have. During windy conditions, make sure that you keep both hands on the steering wheel. Ease down on the speed, so that if you do get buffeted by the wind, you won’t veer as far off course. Be aware of exposed sections of road and be ready for that buffeting!
- Foggy conditions. Again, keep additional distance between your vehicle and the one in front and reduce your speed accordingly. If you have fog lights fitted, use them. Insurers will take issue if you have an accident in poor visibility and you didn’t have your fog lights on. If you have not got fog lights fitted, use your dipped beam. Also, don’t rely on daytime running lights as they don’t illuminate the rear of your vehicle. As soon as conditions consistently improve remember to switch off lights as necessary.
- Hot weather can also be a burden when you are in a van. Vans have a large windscreen, which acts like a greenhouse. It can be quite cool outside, but if the sun is shining, you are sure to be at least warm in your van. If it is hot and sunny outside, you will be sweltering! Our best advice in terms of preparation for this, is to get yourself a vehicle with air conditioning. It is worth the extra investment. It’s always a good idea to carry a bottle of sun cream with you as well, especially if you are fair-skinned. Vehicle windows will block out some, but not all ultra violet rays. Additionally, if you are getting out of your vehicle regularly, which you will do, whilst doing a multi-drop route, there will be enough exposure time for you to get sun-burned.
By the very nature of the job, you will be driving the nation’s highways alongside other roadusers.
At the end of 2017, there were 37.7 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain. (Source: DfT – Vehicle Licensing Statistics: Annual 2017), which is a heck of a lot of folk competing for road-space!
Inevitably you will encounter traffic delays from time to time. However, there are a number of things that you can do to mitigate this.
Start by listening to traffic bulletins. While some national radio stations will provide a good overview of the country as a whole, the local stations will provide you with a better picture of the situation in your particular area.
Most vehicles’ audio systems have Traffic Alert functionality, whereby local traffic announcements will cut-in over whatever it is that you are currently listening to and provide you with an up-to-date picture of the local traffic situation.
This option is not for everyone, as it can be quite irritating, when your singing along to your favourite tune and a traffic announcement suddenly cuts you off in your prime, but it is worthy of consideration and is something that you could use as-and-when required.
As well as relying on the radio, most satnavs have live traffic information functionality, as does your smartphone, with things like Google Maps.
If you suspect that there may be delays on the conventional route to a given destination, it may be worth looking at alternate routes using this kind of software before you set off. (Make sure that you communicate any delays to all relevant parties).