Winter driving is unpredictable due to the adverse weather conditions often experienced in the UK. Even the most experienced drivers can have trouble driving in these conditions and it can lead to dangerous situations.
Winter brings with it the possibility of treacherous driving conditions such as snow and ice, fog, rain and gale-force winds; all of which can be extremely hazardous on the roads. Unfortunately, accidents do increase on the roads in winter, so it is important that your drivers are aware of the conditions they may face and how to drive safely despite them. The Department of Transport found that in 2014, 29 people were killed and 251 were seriously injured in road accidents in the UK when there was snow or ice on the road surface.
In 2018, the UK saw one of its harshest winters, with the ‘beast from the east’ hitting; bringing along with it a large amount of cold weather, snow and ice. The ‘beast’ resulted in over 13,100 insurance claims and cost the UK economy £1bn each day due to how the weather had affected main roads and motorways.
As a business owner, it is essential for this information to be made available for your drivers to ensure their safety, the safety of others and the reputation of the business.
Preparation is Key
Ensuring your drivers implement regular maintenance and checks on their vehicles is essential. It should be a priority to keep a check on vehicle maintenance as a business owner but also to encourage your drivers to make a full vehicle check before setting off, especially on longer journeys. In winter these checks are even more important and should involve a few additional thorough checks that are specific to winter driving. Before any journey it is important that drivers check the following aspects of their vehicle.
- Seat Position
- Brakes (including air brakes where fitted)
- Battery Terminals
- Suzie Couplings (for LGVs)
- Ice build up
It is also advisable that for the winter months, you endeavour to prepare a winter emergency kit and include things such as warm clothes and a blanket; drivers can either bring their own or the business can provide them as part of a safe driving kit.
Before setting off on any journey, it is important that your drivers have a checklist of questions they ask themselves about their vehicle.
- Is everything working correctly?
- Are all elements of the vehicle secure?
- Do I have full control over the vehicle?
- Are there any missing or damaged parts?
- Is the vehicle obstructive or causing a nuisance?
- Is there any aspect of the vehicle that could harm anyone?
Regular Weather Checks
During winter it is even more important that someone be aware of weather forecasts and circulate the information to relevant parties. Encouraging drivers to keep an eye on the weather forecast is also advisable. However, in order to mitigate the risk of getting caught out on the roads in bad weather, you should make it a priority that someone within the business has the job of regularly checking forecast and circulating this with the team, specifically those driving. Understanding the weather conditions in advance means that if the journey is seemingly too hazardous it can be postponed, or if it is absolutely necessary, extra precautions can be taken. It goes without saying but reducing speed is one of the things that should be actively encouraged in the majority of hazardous weather conditions.
Fog – Front fog lights should be used when visibility is less than 100 metres and dipped headlights should be used at all times.
Rain – Reduced speed should be observed and if drivers begin to aquaplane, brakes should not be used. Instead the foot should be taken off the accelerator to reduce speed gradually.
Snow and Ice – Ice is one of the most dangerous driving conditions as it can be hard to tell the road is icy. A tell-tale sign of ice is if you can’t hear the tyres on the road. Don’t brake if you think you’re on ice as this can cause skidding.
Wind – Caution should be taken in windy conditions as high-sided vehicles are particularly affected. It is essential also that drivers take extra care for cyclists and motorcyclists as they too are particularly affected.
Looking out for Drivers on the Road
As a fleet manager or business owner, once your drivers are on the road you may feel you have little impact on their driving choices, however it is important that you take time to instil good driving practice as they represent your business. Drivers should be aware of how quickly driving conditions can change, especially over long distances and they should have the ability to adapt accordingly.
Reduction in Speed – A reduction in speed is advisable in any hazardous driving conditions as it understandably means better control. When visibility is poor and roads are wet or icy, it can take much longer to react and slow down, especially if you’re going fast.
Keep a Safe Distance – Wet and icy roads can increase the stopping distance massively. It is therefore important that drivers keep their distance between themselves and the car in front in case they need to brake suddenly.
Take Care – Harsh accelerating and braking has no place in wintery conditions; make sure drivers take care to practice smooth driving wherever possible.
Lights On – The majority of winter driving conditions call for lights to be switched on at all times. Even when weather isn’t bad, a wintery day can be extremely dull and visibility can be difficult so it is always good practice to have lights on.
In an Emergency
It is important that you have a plan in place for your drivers should they encounter an emergency. If their vehicle breaks down or they get stuck in snow, it is critical to ensure that they know the correct procedures, how to stay warm and, if there is the potential to start their vehicle up again, that they know how to do so.
This is where the aforementioned emergency winter kit would be useful; make sure drivers have clothes to stay warm, blankets and even food. It is important to make them aware of the numbers to call in an emergency by placing them clearly inside the vehicle.
Useful Information and Weather Updates
Traffic and Highways agencies offer up-to-date and relevant information on road conditions for major roads and it is therefore recommended that they be contacted prior to drivers beginning their journeys.
England – Highways England
Scotland – Traffic Scotland
Wales – Traffic Wales
Northern Ireland – Traffic Watch NI
For weather updates, The Met Office has information on UK weather.
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