Winter is now firmly upon us and across the Northern states of the US, professional drivers are now battling the elements, braving icy roads, freezing rain and snow squalls. While even the most seasoned driver needs to be reminded of some simple strategies for keeping safe while driving during the winter months, practicing safe driving in inclement weather can separate the true pros from the others in the field.
Here is our curated list of tips to help drivers stay safe on winter roads:
1. Slow down & maintain a safe following distance.
According to FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS)[i], 5 percent of truck crashes occur when the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) driver is following the lead vehicle too closely. While following too closely is a bad idea at the best of times, it is even more critical in winter months, when visibility is poor and road conditions are icy. Make sure to leave a suitable distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Stopping distance on an icy road is double that of stopping on a dry one. Experts advise maintaining a distance of 50 yards (140 ft) at the speed of 40 mph, to over 90 yards (260 ft) on an icy road surface[ii]. Also, avoid sudden stops by lightly pumping brakes. This can help reduce the risk of locking up tires and losing control of the vehicle. Maintain a firm grip on the wheel to remain control in the face of wind gust, choppy/rough roads. Finally, when travelling on icy surfaces try to avoid sudden movements or acceleration.
2. Visually inspect & clear the vehicle before you head out and during stops
Before you head out on your route, conduct a circle check to ensure the vehicle is in tip top condition. In particular, ensure your mirrors and windshield are clear, and brake and tail lights are wiped clean. Within the cab, test your wipers, defroster and heater to make sure they are working properly. Of course, you’ll want to keep your fuel tank topped up – the extra weight over your tires will help give you traction on snow-covered roads. Good tires with proper tire pressure also help to contribute to safe winter driving.
If the driving is mucky, or there’s significant snow falling, make sure to take the opportunity to stop and frequently clear your brake and tail lights of snow, slush and ice. It is critically important in bad whether you can be seen on the road. But always practice safe stopping – pull into a rest stop or some other safe area versus pulling to the side of the road. And finally, never leave home without a winter emergency kit. Here is what is typically included:
- Proper clothing (loose layers, extra gloves, rain gear)
- A flashlight and batteries
- A blanket
- Non-perishable food and water
- A First Aid kit and any required prescription medication
- A bag of sand or salt
- Extra washer fluid
- A windshield scraper and brush for snow removal
- Jumper cables
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Cell phone and charger
3. Use extra caution when pulling over on the shoulder of the road
For tow operators, winter can be a busy season, but it can also bring new risks for drivers. In emergency situations, tow operators, like police, are considered first responders and according to research, first responders are at a greater risk than average drivers for involvement in accidents on roads and interstates[iii]. Poor weather conditions and slippery roads make it hard for other drivers to see or stop in an emergency situation and tow operators can find quickly themselves in jeopardy. That is why many towing crews operate in pairs during the winter season. Make sure drivers are trained to take extra precaution during winter weather conditions and that they always wear high visibility safety apparel. This will help to keep the business ANSI and DOT compliant.
4. Use GPS to find the best route to your destination
First and foremost, it is important to use good judgement when driving in winter conditions. Yes, you have a schedule to meet but never at the expense of personal safety. If road conditions are very poor then it is best not to set out, or to pull off the road until the weather improves. However, if the weather permits, the GPS provided through a fleet tracking solution can help you find the shortest and best route to your destination. With near real time updates on traffic and road closures, provided to drivers through voice guided instructions, navigation devices can be an invaluable resource to support fleet managers in getting a driver to their location as safely as in as little time as possible. For instance, Zores Towing saw a significant boost in efficiency & speed with these optimal directions to each destination. Some telematics solutions also can help improve customer communications by providing dispatch with ongoing information on a driver’s location and estimated time of arrival at destination.
5. Proactively coach your drivers to navigate tough, winter road conditions
Yet another way a fleet tracking solution can help keep drivers safe is by offering proactive ongoing coaching to drivers while they are in the cab. Harsh braking, turns and speeding should be avoided in all weather, but in the winter can be particularly dangerous. TomTom Webfleet’s OptiDrive 360 provides ongoing coaching to drivers while they are in the cab, alerting them to risky driving behaviors so they can manage their own performance better. Using OptiDrive 360, Frank’s Plumbing was able to reduce harsh braking, hard steering and speeding by more than 60 percent. OptiDrive 360 also provides dispatch and owner/operators with reports on drivers so they can be held accountable and encouraged to drive safely at all times and in all weather/road conditions. This can especially help guide the business to remain in compliance with internal and external winter service level agreements. Telematics capabilities found within a fleet management solution can also help owner/operators engage in proactive maintenance and monitor fleet health using engine diagnostics, helping ensure your vehicles stay in tip top shape.
Winter weather, especially in the Northern US states, is simply part of life. It can mean dangerous driving conditions, but with adequate preparation, common sense and the security of a fleet management solution such as TomTom Webfleet, drivers can navigate their routes (and the winter season) more safely and without consequence.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog aims to provide some useful tips to drivers during the winter season. However, the responsibility for driver safety, as well as for complying with all applicable laws while on the road, remains with fleet managers and drivers themselves. TomTom Telematics does not warrant or, in any other way, imply that the use of its products or services can guarantee driver safety. TomTom Telematics shall not be liable for any accidents and/or violations of the applicable law.