If research from RoSPA (those safety-obsessed people who allegedly sleep in high-vis pyjamas) is true, you might be best advised to forget all the dangers out on the open road and focus instead on the ones right next to you.
RoSPA’s analysis of a study in 2019 from the Department for Transport suggested that 3% of accidents were caused by distraction within drivers’ cars. That might sound piffling, but such data always comes with a flashing neon caveat: distraction-related collisions and prangs are hugely under-reported because it’s human nature to blame something – anything – especially if the true culprit is your spouse, child, or hugely impractical pandemic-purchased dog.
For better detail, look to the USA, where a fresh approach from the National highway Traffic Safety Administration was used to delineate this risk through a ‘100 Car Naturalistic Study’. Using fly-on-wall technology to follow the activities of 241 different drivers over the course of a year, some two million miles of analysis revealed 15 police-reported and 67 non-police crashes were recorded, as well as 761 near-crashes and 8,395 ‘incidents’. The bottom line was that 78% of crashes and 65% of near misses are down to some form of distraction.
Against this sinister mood music, I set off for our annual family holiday in Devon. If I were to draw up a personal list of driving challenges, I’d hit the uppercase lock for (and probably in this order): micro-bladdered children who want to stop at grim motorway services you’d otherwise avoid (to also demand fast food that’s less nutritious than the packaging in which it’s served); my wife, who is convinced every vehicle in the middle lane is about to career across our lane quicker than you can shout “winker”; my own inner traffic cop, who easily starts tutting and gestating at tailgaters, caravanners doing 61mph and people I’m stuck behind because they impudently drive at my speed. Above all this though, I’d say the biggest challenge, especially given a holiday is supposed to be fun, is maintaining a relaxed, composed in-car ambience – and thereby not becoming part of the distracted data.
You can’t, of course, choose your family, but you can choose how you carry it. And if you want to identify what may be the best conveyance for hitting the English riviera, don’t ask me, just go and stand on a motorway bridge. To save you the journey, I’ll tell you here: it’s a VW Transporter, aka a Volksbus, now in generation 6.1 (a 2.0 TDI last gasp before the electrified ID.Buzz finally arrives) and happily being the default choice of beach lovers all the way back to the first doodle of the idea in 1947.
Ah, but it’s just a cult, you cry – Volkswagen’s Transporter is another badge fetish alongside Land Rover’s Defender, one for beach sports, the other for bloodsports. They’re overpriced and, let’s face it, a lot of noise about a van with windows. But you’d be missing the point. A van, firstly, is what any sprawling family needs. If you have children who like singalongs and adore each other’s company, you’ll be fine all the way to Mousehole in a Mini. Anything less harmonious, and a seating configuration for eight or nine across three rows, where your bundles of joy can be seated outside stabbing distance of each other, makes excellent sense.
A Transporter (as indeed does it’s pricier Caravelle and California camper siblings) is also distinctly elevated. In our tea towel nation where we jostle for breathing space among 31.7 million other vehicles, a few centimetres of upward mobility can spell the difference between a journey that’s boxed in or one that allows your gaze to roam to more distant horizons. Up here, the air is rarer. Visibility, it’s true, won’t much help with the Wessex’s oesophageal country lanes, but it does at least inspire some kind of confidence.
So these, along with the immense loadspace, are the bare-bones attributes of a VW van that make it as natural a fit for a great British staycation as money, or finance schemes, can buy. But you don’t have to spend the rather hefty price tag that a 6.1 model commands (they kick off at around £40k, the 148bhp SE model with DSG shift plus a few extras on test cost just over £50,000). No, previous incarnations of Volkswagen’s Transporter range, albeit buoyant in pricing even after 250,000 miles, abound. And to hybridise two very important public information messages, they all basically promise the same equation: space, grace, pace: they get transit done.