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Navigating the Challenges of Winter Driving: A Guide for Ensuring Safe Journeys

Navigating the Challenges of Winter Driving: A Guide for Ensuring Safe Journeys

As the winter season descends upon us, it brings with it a unique set of hazards that demand our utmost attention when hitting the road. Our primary concern is to adapt our driving habits and adequately prepare for the journey ahead. These winter-related hazards include:

  • Ice and Snow: Slippery road surfaces can lead to treacherous conditions.
  • Reduced Visibility: Fog and mist can limit your sight on the road.
  • Sun Angles and Reflections: The position of the sun can hinder your visibility.

To ensure your safety during these challenging winter months, here are some essential precautions to take:

Winter Vehicle Inspections

Before embarking on your journey, it's crucial to conduct a daily visual inspection of your vehicle, checking for any visible defects. Keep an eye on your dashboard lights, looking out for any new warning indicators that may have lit up.

Additionally, it's even more critical during winter to perform weekly written inspections of your vehicle. Make sure to include the following checks in your daily visual and weekly inspections:

  • Ensure your lights are clean and functioning correctly.
  • Verify that your windscreen and wiper blades are clean, and your washer bottle is filled with screen wash.
  • Examine your tyres for proper pressure, tread depth, and overall condition.
  • Consider carrying de-icing equipment such as a scraper and de-icing solution for extreme conditions.
  • Always have a fully stocked first aid kit in your vehicle before starting your journey.

Taking Precautions

Before setting off in winter conditions, whether it's icy, snowy, foggy, or any other challenging weather, be sure to:

  • Stay informed about local and national weather reports and travel updates, especially for the areas along your route.
  • Share your travel plans with someone so they can alert authorities if you encounter difficulties.
  • Plan your routes along major roads that are more likely to be cleared and gritted.
  • Keep your fuel tank near full to avoid running out of fuel, or ensure your electric vehicle is fully charged.
  • Have a fully charged mobile phone with you for communication and emergency assistance.
  • Consider packing extra warm clothing, a high-visibility vest or jacket, boots, a hazard warning triangle, and a flashlight. It's a good idea to keep a couple of long-life food bars and a shovel for clearing snow in your vehicle too.
  • Thoroughly clear your windows and mirrors of snow and ice before setting off, and ensure your heater is blowing warm air to keep your windscreen clear.
  • When in doubt about driving in winter weather, it’s wise to reach out to your supervisor/manager before starting your trip.

Driving Safely in Ice or Snow

To maintain safety on icy or snowy roads, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Reduce your speed significantly and refrain from exceeding speed limits.
  • Avoid abrupt braking, acceleration, and sharp steering movements; adopt a smoother driving style.
  • Slow down before approaching bends to prevent oversteering or understeering.
  • Increase the following distance between you and the vehicle in front, extending it by up to ten times the standard distance.
  • Use dipped headlights and fog lights when visibility is reduced, but only use fog lights when fog is present.
  • When driving downhill, reduce speed before the descent, use a low gear, and try to avoid braking.

Other Considerations

It's important to note that winter hazards extend beyond snow and ice. Consider these factors as well:

  • Low sun angles can affect visibility; drive for the conditions and reduce your speed.
  • Rain can reduce visibility and increase stopping distances, so drive smoothly and plan manoeuvres in advance.
  • If your vehicle begins to aquaplane, ease off the accelerator and brakes to regain control.
  • In flooding conditions, if the water looks to deep do not drive through and find an alternative route. If you feel the water is at a level that could be entered, avoid the deepest water, drive slowly in first gear with high engine revs, and don't stop until you're through. Always test your brakes after exiting the flood.
  • In foggy weather, switch on your headlights and fog lamps.
  • Be cautious when accelerating rapidly after fog clears; visibility may deteriorate again. Keep your speed low in foggy conditions.
  • During periods of low sunshine, reduce your speed, and ensure your windscreen is clean and free of grease.
  • If you drive an automatic, refer to your handbook for winter mode recommendations or selecting '2' in slippery conditions.

Employers must prioritise employee safety when asking them to drive in winter conditions. This involves providing thorough training on safe winter driving techniques, ensuring vehicles are well-maintained and equipped for such conditions, and considering the use of winter tyres. Encouraging employees to keep emergency kits in their vehicles and establish clear communication protocols for reporting unsafe conditions. Flexible scheduling options and alternative transportation should be made available, and a comprehensive winter driving policy should be in place. Employers should also be mindful of insurance coverage and offer flexibility with leave policies during severe weather. Effective communication of expectations and continuous monitoring of weather conditions are crucial in promoting a safe and responsible approach to winter driving.

Remember, safety is paramount during the winter months, and by following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with winter driving. If you need any further information or guidance, contact ST Safety Services. We are always here to help.