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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 August 2005, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
White van man speaks
By Rory Cellan-Jones
BBC News business correspondent

Ford Fiesta Courier van
White vans come in all shapes and sizes
It's the stuff of nightmares for any mild-mannered motorist. In the rear view mirror, six inches from the bumper, is a white van with a tattooed driver leaning out, shaking his fist and using some very choice language.

That, at least, is the familiar stereotype of White Van Man. But who invented him and what's the man in the van got to say for himself?

The archetypal van - the Ford Transit - celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But White Van Man was only born in 1997. It was the BBC Radio 2 DJ Sarah Kennedy who first came up with the phrase.

It was her description of the kind of driver who cut her up as she drove to work at 4am. "It just popped out like all good slogans," she says.

Peter Lee, who runs the Ford Transit Van Owners Club, believes the stereotype emerged in the 90s because vans were getting more powerful just as the roads became more crowded.

"The vans were bigger and faster and the drivers were more aggressive," he says.

Road rage

At a builders merchants in High Wycombe, Alex - bare-chested, tattooed and in his 20s - is man enough to admit there is some truth behind the stereotype.

"The van's changed me for the worse," he says, insisting that other drivers are often to blame for his behaviour. "It never ceases to amaze me what people will do for that extra space on the road. If you cut me up, I will scream at you."

Ben, whose van bears his company's logo, insists he's very cautious. "If I do get silly, my boss will hear about it pretty quickly, and I don't want that."

Sarah Kennedy
Sarah Kennedy coined the phrase
Steve Rogers, like many white van men, is a self-employed builder. He says his van is an essential part of his business and sitting in congestion costs him money. "The more time I spend on site, the more I make. While I'm driving about I'm not making anything."

At home he has a nice quiet family car and he admits that his behaviour behind the wheel depends on what vehicle he is driving.

"I drive more carefully in the car. I just think the van's bigger, if I do hit something I'm safer in it. If I pull out, a car's going to be more aware of me."

White vans aren't just driven by builders, they're also the choice of tens of thousands of couriers. Among these drivers is 27-year-old Mark Burns, who roams the country delivering packages ranging from computer parts to a dead snake for a photo shoot.

He's "a white van man and proud of it" but says that he never drives aggressively. "Being young, my insurance costs me 2,500 a year, I can't afford to crash the van."

Hate figures

So is it the van - or is it the man? Lisa Lukmanji drives a white van, and says she's one of a rare breed. "It's a man's job really because of all the lifting."

You might not imagine this softly-spoken young woman would ever succumb to road rage, but she warns that she won't just sit back and watch others drivers cut her up when she's at the wheel. So don't mess with white van woman either.

"This middle-aged man in a BMW was trying to push me out of the way," she says. "I was trying to keep close to him so I could give him a bit of abuse. I imagine he got a bit of a shock when he saw me."

But there is just a chance that this stereotype born in the late 90s could be reaching its sell-by date. White van man seems to be getting older and slowing down, and he's being replaced by 4x4 drivers on the school run as the motorist everyone loves to hate.

White Van Man Speaks was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday at 1100BST.

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