Learning Zone

Driving HGVs in Winter

By Ellen Sowerby
22 January 2021

It’s easy to forget how dangerous driving in winter can be, so we’ve put together 10 tips to help keep your lorry fleet and drivers safe on the road this winter…

1. Be prepared

Make sure you drivers have the right equipment for every possible situation and be sure to check they have the following items in their cab:

  • De-icer and 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 in case they get stranded
  • Food and water
  • At least half a tank of fuel always –journeys may take longer than planned or they may need to find alternative routes

2. Inspect the vehicle

We recommend adjusting your regular checks during winter, paying special attention to:

  • 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

And we know that carrying out daily paper-based walkaround checks can be a lot harder when it’s cold, so why not switch 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 and remain aware of changing conditions and closed routes via GPS systems, radio, or by getting drivers to regularly call 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 a loss of control, even at the best of times. But in winter the problem is a lot worse. Tell your drivers to:

  • 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.
  • Allow extra space – increasing stopping distance allows time to react to the vehicles in front. During periods of snow and ice, allow as much asten times the normal stopping distance. 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.
  • Be consistent – keep a steady speed and go easy on the brakes.

5. Know the rules 

HGV drivers have a rule of thumb when changing lane for every road condition. For winter driving, they use four or five blinks and then move over slowly into the next lane. Tell your drivers that they shouldn’t feel the need to match the speed of the drivers around them.

If they’re cautious on winter roads, tell them to hold their speed and use hazard lights – this tells other road users that they are going slower than they are. 

6. Be mindful of hazards

Driving an HGV in winter can be a challenge, but there are particular hazards your drivers should look out for:

  • Black ice – a dangerous road condition, it presents itself as a thin layer of transparent ice that often makes the road look slightly wet. Signs that there is a risk of black ice include a build-up of ice on mirror arms, antennae or the top corners of the windshield, and a lack of spray from vehicles in front.
  • Fog – in heavy, thick fog that limits visibility, make sure your drivers use their lights and slow down. And stress to your drivers that they must never feel pressured into travelling faster than they’re comfortable with.
  • Heavy rain – warn of the dangers of aquaplaning. If the worst happens, tell them to hold the steering wheel straight, gently ease off the accelerator and avoid hitting the brakes hard.
  • Bridges – these areas are often not treated by gritters, so make sure your drivers know to take extra care when approaching elevated structures. 

7. Safety first

We know this sounds like an obvious point to make, but it’s common for drivers to fall and injure themselves by under-estimating just how slippery their vehicle steps are. We recommend that they maintain three points of contact when entering or leaving their cab to avoid a fall. We also suggest they wear boots with good grip to reduce slips. Also, when visibility is low, remind them to always remember to wear their high-visibility vest!

 8. 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, your drivers should find a safe place to stop (and wherever possible not on the hard shoulder as this will dramatically increase their chances of being hit). Instruct them to head for the nearest petrol station or any 24-hour establishment and wait until visibility improves.

9. Write winter policies

You should have in place a winter driving policy which includes preventative measures such as regular driver training and additional winter vehicle checks. However, it’s important to remember that specifying regular inspections is only useful if you have a way to ensure full and timely completion.

You must ensure that your policy has 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.

You can then use your fleet driver management software 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, with links to policies, to new starters, drivers who display risky behaviours, those who are due for refresher training; or even scheduled medicals and/or drug and alcohol testing.

We know that bad weather is out of your control, but you can control being more organised to reduce both risks and possible accidents occurring in your fleet this winter.

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