Fleets should start preparing for winter driving as early as possible, giving them a chance to communicate it to all drivers. Those winter driving plans should align with overall safety policies and include in-depth inspections and maintenance service for all vehicles.
Ben Langley, vice president of training and development innovation for Driving Dynamics, said a winter driving plan and safety policies should cover best practices for safe driving in inclement conditions as well as how to handle situations that don’t involve behind-the-wheel performance.
Drivers should take more care when getting in and out of a vehicle, for example, because slipping and falling in such conditions is a frequent problem in winter. “The snow and icy conditions can create havoc when employees have their mind on the job task rather than the condition of their environment,” Langley said.
Lessons Learned From Previous Winters
When fleets develop a winter driving plan, it’s important to learn from experiences and lessons learned in previous winters. Langley suggests that a review of statistics from the past several years can help managers identify the root cause of most crashes. They then can develop plans that prioritize addressing those areas.
Some of those winter driving statistics include detailed information on past crashes. For 2021, those statistics include the following.
- Icy roads alone caused 156,164 crashes
- In a car, stopping on a snowy road can take 10 times longer than on a clear road
- About 17 percent of all vehicle crashes occur in snowy conditions
- About 70 percent of all roads are in places that experience snowy conditions
- Unfortunately, about 2,000 people die and 135,000 are injured each year from driving in snowy conditions
It’s also important to keep other drivers in mind. While the general public is more informed than ever on driving safety, more than half (about 58 percent) said they never use snow tires in winter even though 70 percent of the country lives where snowy and icy conditions occur.
Tips For Driving in Winter Weather
Staying mindful of conditions is one of the most important things drivers can do. It’s also important to stay aware of things they cannot see. For example, black ice represents one of the most dangerous aspects of winter driving. The term refers to ice on the road that is frozen solid, but is clear rather than opaque like most white-colored ice. Drivers may approach black ice at higher speeds because they have no idea it is coming.
Sudden snow or ice storms also represent a big challenge for fleet drivers. If a storm consists of sleet, it can quickly turn a road into a slippery surface.
Langley and other safe driving experts recently offered up some important tips for winter driving. For example, Langley spoke about the need for drivers to increase the space between themselves and other vehicles when conditions turn icy or snowy.
“Vehicle braking capability is diminished as road conditions deteriorate and stopping distances increase, in some cases significantly,” he said. “If drivers don’t make seasonal adjustments in their driving habits, risk levels increase.”
Fleets also should allow for more time on routes with adverse conditions. In addition to informing drivers about best practices, a winter driving plan also should include an increased number of vehicle inspections and proactive maintenance that lowers the risk of vehicle breakdowns. Inspections should include checking tire pressure, fuel and washer fluid levels and all safety equipment.
Other areas to consider:
- Warn drivers that emergency brakes may easily freeze and become unusable in certain conditions
- Teach drivers the importance of reducing speed in winter weather
- Advise drivers to become as familiar as possible with potential hazards within the service area that could get covered by snow, including fire hydrants, electrical lines and any raised surface.
- Let drivers know that false safety alerts can occur when sensors are covered with ice or salt
- Drivers should review all the best practices for safety in the event of a breakdown or getting caught in snow or ice
It’s important for fleets to prepare a winter driving plan that will lower the risk of crashes and give drivers the information and training they need to improve performance. The earlier you start, the better.