Winter is gradually tightening its grip on the UK. And, with it, many unique challenges related to the cold, wet months become apparent – road surfaces become slippery and visibility is often reduced, causing route disruptions and accidents across Britain.
While the UK is not known for its particularly harsh winters in comparison to other countries, it is important that fleet managers start preparing for these challenges ahead of time. The ever-increasing impact of climate change only adds to this issue, resulting in potentially unpredictable weather all year round.
Commercial drivers often travel long distances, across borders and to remote locations, where risk is heightened when there are adverse winter conditions. To improve their fleet and driver safety, fleet managers must implement winter driving strategies.
In this article, we’ll explore the challenges fleet managers face during the winter and explain the ways in which fleet managers can improve safety.
Impact of Winter on Fleet Operations
Fleet operations face a range of safety concerns during the winter, including:
- Icy roads: The build-up of snow and ice can cause roads to become slippery, reducing steering ability and braking distance, which can result in vehicle accidents.
- Reduced visibility: Snow and rain can also reduce driver visibility. On top of this, a build-up of fog in the vehicle’s cabin can negatively affect a driver’s view of the road and surroundings, contributing to collisions.
- Unexpected Obstacles: Winter weather conditions can lead to unexpected obstacles on the road. For example, fallen branches and ice can be hidden under snow cover, posing sudden hazards to drivers. This unpredictability requires increased vigilance and slower driving speeds to safely navigate.
Several maintenance issues need additional attention over the winter months, which entails regularly checking the:
Tyres: A vehicle’s tyres are one of the most important safety considerations in winter. Vehicles may need to be fitted with specialised winter tyres to ensure maximum steering and braking ability, contributing to a safe journey. These tyres should be made from a rubber compound that remains flexible in colder weather, allowing the tyres to maintain road grip.
Battery: Cold weather can drain the charge on a vehicle’s battery much faster than in warmer months. Replace batteries that have reached the end of their usable lifetime to avoid unnecessary breakdowns.
Engine oil and fluids: The fluids used in a vehicle’s different engine components also require additional consideration in the winter. These include:
- Engine oil: Using winter-grade engine oils ensures optimal engine function in the colder winter months.
- Transmission fluid: To ensure optimal gear-shifting, use winter-grade transmission fluid in transmission systems.
- Radiator fluid: Radiators must be filled with antifreeze to prevent the radiator water from freezing during cold winter nights.
- Windshield washer fluid: Use high-quality washer fluid to immediately and effectively wash away any slush or snow from the vehicle’s windscreen.
Heating system: A functional in-cabin heating system ensures that employees are warm and comfortable while driving in cold weather. It also ensures proper cabin ventilation which can reduce the chances that windows and the windscreen fog up.
Windscreen defroster: A fully functioning defroster ensures that frost and snow are speedily melted. It also prevents a build-up of ice on windscreens.
Windscreen wipers: Fully functioning windscreen wipers prevent the build-up of snow and ensure maximum visibility while driving in wet and snowy conditions.
Air filters: Clean air filters ensure proper ventilation inside the vehicle’s cabin and prevent windows and the windscreen from fogging.
Depending on the journeys being made and the expected weather conditions, fleet managers may consider installing and making the following equipment available in their vehicles:
- Winter tyres offer better on-road grip during icy and wet road conditions and help improve steering and handling.
- Snow chains help provide traction and can be crucial in helping move the vehicle from a mud-filled trench or unkept road.
- Ice scrapers and snow brushes remove excess snow and ice from the vehicle’s windscreen, mirrors and lights.
- Snow shovels are used to dig out the vehicle if it gets stuck in snow or mud.
- Reflective markers or hazard triangles are placed around the vehicle during an emergency and make the vehicle more visible to other road users.
Training for winter driving should be carried out at the start of the season. For example, drivers should be reminded that driving at reduced speeds minimises the chances of the vehicle skidding on a slippery road surface. This can help minimise collisions with other drivers. Fleet drivers should also maintain a safe following distance when driving behind other vehicles. This allows for sufficient reaction times in an emergency to ensure the vehicle is brought to a stop safely.
Drivers should be trained to avoid harsh braking. They should also familiarise themselves with how their vehicles would react on wet and slippery roads so that, when needing to brake, they’ll know how to bring their vehicles to a stop. Commercial drivers should approach turning corners cautiously to avoid skidding or losing control of their vehicles.
Finally, drivers should do a pre-trip check to ensure their vehicles have the necessary winter safety equipment. They should also check that their tyres, windows, mirrors, headlights and hazard lights are in working order before they travel.
Technology Solutions For Winter Driving
Crystal Ball offers fleet managers a range of telematics solutions to ease the burden of ensuring driver and vehicle safety on the roads.
Crystal Ball’s Vehicle Tracking
Crystal Ball’s high-quality vehicle vehicle tracking system uses the latest GPS technology to provide fleet managers with real-time location data. These car trackers record vehicle speeds, driving style and behaviour (used to calculate driver scores). This allows fleet managers to immediately respond in the event of an accident or breakdown, especially in adverse weather conditions.
These tracking devices can also significantly improve vehicle security when parked in isolated areas.
Fleet managers are encouraged to use Crystal Ball’s Vehicle Checklist to stay abreast of their winter preparation strategy. This checklist app also ensures that fleets comply with UK regulations and helps track vehicle maintenance. They allow fleet managers to stay informed of any maintenance issues that need immediate attention, preventing vehicle breakdown.
Lone Worker Protection App
Crystal Ball’s Lone Worker Protection App provides real-time location tracking, offers two-way communication capabilities, and notifies fleet managers of any emergencies. This app is essential to assure safety for drivers who spend hours on the road or employees who service remote locations.
Employer’s Duty of Care
Fleet managers are tasked with ensuring the proper functioning and overall efficiency of their fleets. However, they must also shoulder the responsibility of keeping their fleet vehicles and employees safe.
As a fleet manager, you can ensure and boost driver and vehicle safety in the winter months by:
- Implementing a vehicle winter-ready strategy
- Providing drivers with training to improve their winter-driving abilities
- Using a high-quality car tracker and other telematics solutions to enhance vehicle and driver safety
By integrating these approaches, fleet managers can substantially enhance the safety of their drivers and vehicles, particularly in the challenging conditions of winter. This comprehensive approach not only aligns with the employer’s duty of care but also contributes to the overall efficiency and reliability of the fleet.
Navigating and overcoming the challenges related to winter driving in the UK is no small task. However, by using a multi-faceted approach and preparing accordingly, fleet managers can improve their fleet and employee safety.
A fleet manager can – using winter safety equipment and car trackers – significantly reduce driving-related risks, boost safety and improve their fleet’s operational efficiency.