Driving HGVs in Winter
It’s easy to forget how dangerous driving in winter can be. Here’s some refresher HGV winter driving tips to make sure your fleet’s drivers reach their destination safely.
With some forecasters predicting a very cold winter, could your HGV fleet drivers benefit from a refresh on how to drive safely in adverse weather conditions?
To help stay safe on the roads this winter, we have produced an infographic with 8 HGV winter driving tips:
1. Be prepared for every situation
It’s important to check that you have the right equipment before you start your journey, especially during the harsh winter months. Make sure you are ready for every possible situation and be sure to check that you have the following items to hand:
❄ De-icer and ice scraper – front and rear windscreens must be clear of snow and ice before you set off.
❄ A shovel and a bag of sand or salt – minor roads don’t tend to be gritted and it’s quite easy to get stuck.
❄ Jump leads – just in case your vehicle (or someone else’s) won’t start
❄ A flashlight
❄ A high-visibility jacket
❄ A warm blanket, and extra warm clothes – it’s always worth carrying extra clothes in case you get stranded.
❄ Food and water – just in case you get stuck and are awaiting recovery or held up through traffic congestion.
❄ At least half a tank of fuel always – journeys may take longer than planned or you may need to find alternative routes
2. Inspect your lorry
When it comes to vehicle inspections, you may need to adjust your regular checks during winter months.
Importantly, you should check your:
❄ Tyres – wear, pressure and balance
❄ Battery – power and charging system
❄ Windscreen wipers – working and free from ice and snow
❄ Fluid levels – topped up
❄ Lights – fully functional
❄ Exhaust – ensure it’s clear of snow
❄ Defrosters – ensure they are functional
Carrying out daily paper-based walkaround checks on paper can be a lot harder when it’s cold. Consider swapping to an electronic forms app. This removes the risks of wet or damaged paperwork, illegible handwriting and the need for administrative support to input the information into a system.
3. Check the conditions
Keep up-to-date with weather information before you set off and remain aware of changing conditions and closed routes via GPS systems, radio, or by regularly calling into base. This is where telematics can be a great help in knowing where drivers are, the routes that they are taking and the opportunities to find alternative, safer routes.
4. Drive carefully
Sudden, sharp movements can cause you to lose control – hard acceleration and braking decreases traction. Keep to a steady, consistent speed and go easy on the brakes. Hold the distance between you and the car in front to retain a comfortable braking distance in icy conditions. With 17% of all vehicle crashes occurring during the winter months, drivers should:
❄ Slow down
Most accidents occur because drivers are travelling too fast. This is especially dangerous for HGV drivers as it takes much longer to bring the vehicle to a halt if there is an obstruction or incident in the road ahead. When getting behind the wheel of an unfamiliar vehicle, take the time to become accustomed to how the vehicle handles and be aware that it’s much harder to control or stop on a road that is covered in snow! Remember speed limit signs are intended for dry roads and good weather conditions!
❄ Allow extra space
Increase your stopping distance to allow time to react to the vehicles in front of you during bad weather or poor road conditions. During periods of snow and ice, allow as much as ten times the normal stopping distance. Remember, HGVs’ need more time to stop than cars do.
Whilst there’s often a tendency to associate hazardous weather mainly with snow and ice, fog, rain and sun dazzle can all play a part in driver safety too.
5. Drive smoothly
Sudden, sharp movements can cause you to lose control and similarly, hard acceleration and braking decreases traction. Keep a consistent, steady speed and go easy on the brakes and maintain your distance between you and the vehicle in front helps maintain a comfortable braking distance in icy conditions.
6. Use your indicators
HGV drivers have a rule of thumb when changing lane; for every road condition. For winter driving, use four or five blinks and then move over slowly into the next lane. Don’t feel the need to match the speed of the drivers around you. If you’re cautious of your lorry on the winter roads, hold your speed and use your hazard lights – this tells other road users that you are going slower than they are.
7. Be mindful of hazards
Driving an HGV in winter can be a challenge, but there are particular hazards you should watch out for:
❄ Black ice
In close to freezing temperatures, look out for clues that black ice may be on the roads. A dangerous road condition, it presents itself as a thin layer of transparent ice that often makes the road look slightly wet. Signs that you’re at risk from black ice include:
- A build-up of ice on your lorry’s mirror arms, antennae or the top corners of the windshield
- Spray from tyres on the vehicles in front of you – if this spray stops, be aware of the possibility of black ice
If you do find yourself skidding on black ice, firstly remove your foot off the accelerator and do not use the brakes. As the tyres find grip gently steer into the direction of the skid – if it skids to the left, turn the steering wheel towards this direction.
In heavy, thick fog that limits visibility, use you lights and slow down. Even if vehicles are travelling close behind you, never feel pressured into travelling faster than you’re comfortable with. Use your windscreen wipers and demisters to keep visibility as clear as possible.
❄ Heavy rain
If you’re struggling to see the road ahead due to heavy rain, then it’s advisable to slow down. Keep a good distance between you and the vehicles in front and beware of aquaplaning when tyres lose traction due to water on the road. If your vehicle does start aquaplaning, hold the steering wheel straight, gently ease off the accelerator and avoid hitting the brakes hard until you regain control.
Elevated structures, such as bridges, usually freeze first and are not always treated with salt/sand to melt the snow or ice. During the winter months, be sure to approach these areas carefully to avoid spinning out or losing control.
8. Be careful when entering and leaving your lorry
This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s common for drivers to fall and injure themselves by underestimating just how slippery their vehicle steps are. Remember to maintain three points of contact when entering or leaving the cab to avoid taking a fall. Take your time and wear boots with good grip to reduce your chance of injury. Also, when visibility is low, always remember your high-visibility vest!
9. Know when to stop
There’s a good time and a bad time to stop driving!
When winter conditions become so treacherous that driving no longer becomes possible, find a safe place to stop. Wherever possible, do not stop on the hard shoulder as this will dramatically increase your chances of being hit. Instead, drive carefully to a petrol station or any 24-hour establishment and wait until visibility improves.
10. Write winter policies
If you’re a fleet or HR manager, winter driving policies and procedures should already be in place. Include preventative measures such as regular driver training and additional winter vehicle checks. it’s important, however, to remember that specifying regular inspections is only useful if you have a way to ensure full and timely completion.
Such policies need to have been read, understood and agreed to during staff inductions and as part of regular refresher training. It’s worthwhile including a toolbox talk for all drivers at the start of the winter months to act as a reminder about company procedure during inclement weather.
Tools such as fleet driver management software can then be used to implement your processes and create reports and alerts on performance such as driver behaviour scores, vehicle inspection and driver policy completion rates.
The software can be configured to automatically send reminders and alerts for new starters with links to policies; drivers who display risky behaviours, those who are due for refresher training; or even scheduled medicals and/or drug and alcohol testing.
Although bad weather is out of your control, it’s possible to be more organised to reduce both risks and possible accidents occurring in your fleet this winter.
Don’t have a winter driving policy? This infographic below is a great place to start.
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