Driving HGVs in Winter
It’s easy to forget how dangerous driving in winter can be, here’s some refresher tips to make sure you or your fleet’s drivers reach their destination safely.
Some forecasters are predicting this could be one of the coldest winters in the last 5 years with possible temperatures of -10C in the north of the UK.
It’s important to continue protecting fleet operations when driving in adverse weather conditions. Even when the holiday season is over, the short, cold days will continue for at least another few months.
To help you stay safe on the roads this winter, we have produced an infographic with 8 safety tips for winter HGV driving:
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/ice scraper
❄ A shovel and a bag of sand or salt
❄ Jump leads
❄ A flashlight
❄ A high-visibility jacket
❄ A warm blanket, and extra warm clothes
❄ Food and water
❄ At least half a tank of fuel at all times
2. Inspect your lorry
When it comes to vehicle inspections, you may need to slightly alter your regular checks during winter months.
Importantly, you should check your:
❄ Tires for wear, pressure and balance
❄ Battery power and charging system
❄ Windscreen wipers are working and free from ice and snow
❄ Fluid levels are topped up
❄ Lights are fully functional
❄ Exhaust, to ensure it is clear of snow
❄ Defrosters, to ensure they are functional
Trying to write on paper can be a lot harder when your hand don’t respond properly so if you still using paper based check forms, consider swapping to an electronic forms app, this can remove the risks of unreadable handwriting, or wet and damaged paperwork as well as the need for someone to type it into a system.
3. Check the conditions
Obtain weather information before you set off and keep up to date with changing conditions and closed routes via GPS systems, radio, or regularly calling into base.
4. Drive carefully
After the mild conditions in the summer and autumn months, dangers caused by winter weather are often overlooked, however, “17% of all vehicle crashes occur during the winter months”. With this in mind, you and your drivers should:
❄ Slow down
Most accidents occur because drivers are travelling too fast. This is especially dangerous for HGV drivers, so when you first get behind the wheel, take the time to become accustomed to how the vehicle handles on the road – it’s harder to control or stop on a road that is covered in snow. Remember that the speed signs are intended for dry roads!
❄ Allow extra space
Increase your stopping distance to allow time to react to the vehicles in front of you. During snowy and icy conditions, allow ten times the normal stopping distance. Remember, HGVs’ need more time to stop than cars do.
While there’s often a tendency to associate hazardous weather mainly with snow and ice, fog, rain and sun dazzle can all have a huge impact on driver safety too.
5. Drive smoothly
Sudden, sharp movements will cause you to lose control and hard acceleration and braking also decrease traction. Hold a consistent, steady speed and be easy on the brakes – if you hold your distance between you and the car in front, you will always have a comfortable braking distance in icy conditions.
6. Use your turn signals
HGV driver’s 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 a HGV in winter can be seen as a hazard in itself, but there are two particular hazards you should watch out for:
In close to freezing temperatures, look out for clues that black ice may be on the roads. Black ice is a dangerous road condition, and 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
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 vehicles steps are.
It’s not a race, so be sure to 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 to stop driving, and there’s a bad time to stop driving. Winter conditions can be so harsh that driving no longer becomes possible, so it is important to recognise know when this is. If visibility is low and driving conditions severe, 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 increases.
10. Write winter policies
If you’re a fleet or HR manager, you should already be implementing a range of winter policies and procedures, including preventative measures such as regular driver training and a special winter vehicle checks. It is, however, important to remember that specifying regular inspection is only useful if you have a way to ensure full and timely completion.
The first step is always to gain awareness of what’s going on in your operation. So, start by creating measurable questions such as: “is a winter driving policy available?”, “who has read it?”,
“to what extent are drivers trained for harsh driving conditions?”, “are any drivers or vehicles more at-risk?” and “how is daily vehicle roadworthiness ensured?”.
Tools such as Fleet management software can then be used to implement your processes and create reports on their performance, such as driver behaviour scores, vehicle inspection and driver policy competition rates.
Software can also be configured to automatically send reminders and alerts for new starters with links to polices; drivers who display risky behaviour; those who are due for refresher training; or even scheduled medicals and/or drug and alcohol testing.
You can’t prevent bad weather, but it is possible to be more organised, and reduce both risks and possible accidents occurring in your fleet this winter.
If don’t yet to have a winter driving policy, why not start with some of these tips to get yours started.
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