Winter driving: How To Stay Safe

Peninsula Team

November 11 2010

The British winter is unpredictable and severe weather conditions can strike with little warning. It is an underlying cause of many minor and serious accidents; and official statistics generally show an increase during the winter months. It’s not the weather that leads to this surge but poor driving, lack of preparation and vehicles that haven’t been serviced for the rigors of winter.

Preparation and patience are key factors in promoting road safety during the winter. Managers who prepare company cars and transport fleets for the winter, provide drivers with clear winter driving advice and have contingency plans, will minimise the risk of business disruption and staff frustration. 

The best advice (always given out by the authorities when severe weather hits) is to stay off the road. But this is not always possible or appropriate; businesses cannot afford to shut down because of bad weather and some drivers may already be on the road a long way from base when the bad weather hits. 

Employers have a responsibility to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of their employees wherever they are working. This includes driving during the course of their work. The responsibility is easily discharged by ensuring that drivers are fully licensed (trained and tested to a recognised standard) for the class of vehicle they are driving, that they have properly maintained and insured vehicles and that their workload does not pressure them into excessive driving hours or to break speed limits. During winter, Peninsula can demonstrate active and continuing health and safety management by offering winter driving advice. 

The Department of transport, RoSPA and other road safety organisations offer lots of winter driving advice which is summarised here.
One reason for unnecessary frustrations and delay is not preparing your vehicle and making sure it is serviced and mechanically ready for the rigors of winter. Before setting off on your journey make sure you have performed the crucial checks on your car, especially if it is kept outdoors.

Plan Ahead
- Check the weather forecast, road conditions and consider alternative routes. 
- Allow plenty of time for your journey.
- Allow extra time to clear the windows properly and carry an ice-scraper and some de-icer. 
- Ensure that your vehicle is prepared for the journey and has anti-freeze in it. 
- Make sure all your lights work and that you use them to see, be seen and be safe. 
- Check that tyre pressures are correct and check that tyres have at least 3mm of tread. 
- Make sure you have sufficient windscreen washer fluid at winter strength in the reservoir. 
- Check that you have enough fuel for your journey with a reserve in case you get held up along the way. In remote areas consider carrying a spare can of fuel.
- Carry warm clothing, blankets, a torch, a shovel, a bottle of water and suitable footwear. 
- It is also sensible to have a map, warning triangle and first aid kit
- If you have to take regular medication make sure you have it with you.
- In remote areas take a flask of tea or coffee and some chocolate bars (or high energy food) and phone ahead to warn people to expect you and raise the alarm if you don’t arrive as expected.

During your Journey 
- Reduce speed in bad weather. 
- Increase stopping distances. Driving in snow and ice increases stopping distances by 10 times.
- Avoid sudden acceleration and braking. 
- Use dipped headlights in poor conditions. 
- Take regular breaks; even if you are running late don’t ignore the fact that driving in bad weather conditions will increase fatigue. 
- Do not pass closed snow gates
- Listen to travel bulletins. 
- Observe information on Variable Message Signs.

If Stranded 
- Make sure that your vehicle will not block access (abandoned vehicles can obstruct emergency services, grit spreaders and snow ploughs and 
prolong traffic hold-ups).
- Where possible remain in your vehicle unless there is a safety risk. 
- Maintain your circulation by moving about. 
- Use the engine to keep warm; but make sure the exhaust can disperse and will not fill your vehicle. 
- Keep an airway open if snowed over.

Watch out for Fog 
- In foggy conditions, drive very slowly using dipped headlights and rear fog-lamps. 
- Use forward fog-lights if visibility is seriously reduced, but remember to switch them off when visibility improves. 
- Dont hang on to the taillights of the vehicle in front. 
- Dont speed up suddenly, even if the fog seems to be clearing. Fog drifts rapidly and is often patchy; you can suddenly find yourself back in thick fog.

Winter Sun 
- Dazzle from winter sun can be dangerous. If it is below the visor level use sunglasses. 

Flooded Roads 
- Dont attempt to drive through floods if the water is fast flowing. 
- Dont attempt to drive through floods unless you know the depth of the water and are sure that it is possible. 
- If you have to drive through floods stay in first gear and keep the engine speed as high as is safely possible. Avoid stalling.
- Drive slowly and avoid areas where the water is deepest, usually near the kerb. 
- Remember to test your brakes when you have passed the flooded area before you drive at normal speed.

Icy Roads 
- Be aware that ice forms more easily on hilly and exposed roads, roads under and over bridges and roads shaded by trees and buildings.
- If you hit ice and feel the car start to slide or skid immediately take your foot off the accelerator, don’t be tempted to brake (which will increase your risk of spinning) and steer gently into the slide. 
- The best way to avoid skidding in the first place is to drive at a slow speed. In icy conditions a safe speed may be slower than you think; at just 30mph you are travelling 30ft every second. 
- To reduce the risk further make sure you are very smooth when you accelerate, brake or turn.

Think about your driving; don’t become frustrated, angry or impatient. It is better to arrive late and in one piece than to have an accident on the way.

If you require any advice or information on how to stay on the right side of Health and Safety legislation during the winter months please contact our Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.

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