Winter storms bring a higher level of unpredictability and risk. Ice, snow, and whiteout conditions pose significant threats to fleet drivers and vehicles. According to AAA, winter storms, bad weather, and sloppy road conditions contribute to almost a half a million accidents and over two thousand deaths each winter. It’s important to equip your employees who drive company vehicles with the proper training and tools so they can perform as predictably as possible in the face of unpredictable conditions. In this blog, we’ll provide winter storm driving tips to help reduce risk and keep drivers out of harm’s way this winter.
If a winter storm is predicted in your territory, the best advice we can give is to keep your fleet off of the road. However, during the winter holidays, this is not an option for many small businesses. If your fleet must take to the road during a winter storm, a pre-trip inspection should be mandatory. For this, drivers should take the following steps.
- Inspect all fluid levels, taking special care to ensure there is plenty of no-freeze window washing fluid in the reservoir.
- Check tire pressure and tire tread depth. Change over to snow tires in areas that experience a lot of winter storms and poor driving conditions.
- Remove snow and ice from windows, mirrors, and all other vehicle surfaces to prevent visibility and performance issues.
- Inspect to ensure wiper blades are working sufficiently and that the heater/defroster is operational.
- Equip vehicle with a set of chains and portable shovel for getting out of slippery situations.
- Plan routes carefully in advance to ensure the safest route and to allow for plenty of time.
Driving in the Storm
The pre-trip inspection can only go so far in reducing risk during winter storm driving. Ice, snow, and whiteout conditions can create extremely difficult and dangerous driving conditions for anyone, but especially for unprepared or inexperienced drivers. Here are some helpful tips on driving in these conditions.
Driving on Ice
Icy roads are among the most dangerous hazards a driver will face. During winter months, black ice and freezing rain can form quickly and unexpectedly. During a winter storm, compacted snow and ice can fully cover roadways faster than road crews can clear it. Even long after a storm, snow and ice floors can melt during the day and refreeze at night making conditions even more perilous. To prepare for driving on ice, train drivers to:
- Slow down and not follow too closely as stopping distances increase exponentially on ice. (GEICO recommends leaving a full eight seconds driving room between vehicles)
- Stay focused on the road and watch for anomalies. Areas that look wet on an otherwise dry road could be black ice.
- OSHA recommends that professional drivers practice driving slowly on ice during daylight hours in an empty lot to master these skills. This provides drivers with a sense of how brakes and steering react on slippery surfaces.
- If a loss of traction occurs:
- Do not panic
- Do not slam on the brakes
- Quickly remove foot from the gas
- Calmly steer toward the intended direction and avoid jerking the wheel
Driving on Snow
Much of the same advice applies for driving in snow as driving on ice. However, unlike ice, snow can pile up creating drifts. It can be wet and slushy or dry and fluffy. It can cover icy surfaces like a blanket obscuring the dangerous ice below. And each type of snow comes with slightly different feels and effects behind the wheel. For driving in snow, train drivers to:
- Slow down and increase following distance.
- Avoid driving through drifts and slush piles as it can quickly pull tires causing the wheel to jerk from the driver’s hand causing a loss of control.
- Assume that conditions are slippery, and that ice may be lurking below when snow is present.
Driving During a Whiteout or Blizzard Conditions
Our advice? Avoid driving in a blizzard or whiteout. But if caught in these conditions, drivers should:
- Slow down considerably.
- See and be seen – turn on headlights and running lights. (Fog lights are very helpful if the vehicle is equipped). If driving well below the speed limit, turn on hazard lights to increase visibility.
- If visibility is significantly obscured, carefully pull to the shoulder of the road and wait out the worst of the storm.
Even experienced drivers can benefit from re-learning these helpful tips. Taking the time to cover the basics of driving in a winter storm can help keep your fleet safer this winter season.