January 22, 2024

The Essentials of Winter Weather Driving

Insights UK Regional Division
Risk Management

The autumn and winter months can produce some extreme weather conditions which make driving more difficult, and at times, highly dangerous. 

Heavy rains can cause aquaplaning and skidding, while surface water can disguise the actual depth of flooded areas. Both can result in vehicle damage and injury or on occasion, even death. Fog, ice and heavy snow can greatly reduce visibility and make road surfaces slippery or difficult to transverse. With shorter daylight hours during this time more driving is done in the dark — which has its own difficulties including the capacity to tire drivers more quickly. 

Help protect your staff from the extra dangers adverse weather can bring, whether it’s company vehicles or staff using their own cars, by ensuring the following: 

  • That all vehicles have regular maintenance checks and some simple pre-driving checks before every use. 
  • Journeys — particularly long ones — are well planned in advance. 
  • Drivers are aware of the necessity to suitably adapt their driving behaviour during periods of adverse weather. 

Making Those Vital Regular Checks 

To avoid the potential for breakdowns and ensure as many trouble-free journeys as possible during periods of wet and cold weather conditions, it is essential to ensure vehicles are properly maintained and that time is spent in regularly carrying out some basic checks. This includes checking the brakes, the most important safety feature of any car. Keep an eye on wear rates — especially when grip could be at its lowest in winter. 

According to the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), 28% of breakdown issues are battery related. So, it makes sense to keep it regularly maintained, charged and in good health. Related to battery checks, the RAC provide useful advice on what to do if your car won’t start in the cold on their website:

Setting aside just five minutes every few weeks for these simple checks can help to keep your drivers safe on the roads, as well as save you a lot of time and money in the long run. 

Ensure Your Vehicle Is Journey-Ready 

In recent research where the RAC asked if drivers checked their cars to ensure they are ‘road-ready’ before making a trip, an alarming 30% said they never do! 

The RAC offer some practical advice on prepping your vehicle, such as clearing your windscreen inside and out. Using cold air rather than hot air will actually clear your windscreen faster (see the RAC’s how to demist your windscreen in double-quick time).  

Changing Driving Behaviours 

Driving in poor weather conditions, especially those that winter tends to throw at us, requires a change in driving behaviours in order to keep both drivers, and others on the road, safe. 

Safe driving needs good reactions and concentration, even more so with the added dangers of driving in winter weather. 

Speed: Stopping distances can be 10 times longer when it’s icy. Gentle manoeuvres and slow speeds are therefore key to staying safe on winter roads. 

Reaction Times: Good reactions are all important when driving in poor weather conditions. In the seasons for colds and flu, driving ability can be affected if a driver is feeling unwell. Cold-related medicines can also make drivers drowsy and affect their reaction times. Driving when unwell should, therefore, be avoided if at all possible. 

Distractions: Distractions can inevitably make a driver less observant and more likely to fail to anticipate the hazards around them. While it is difficult to obtain accurate data on the impact of distraction on road accidents, it is believed that over 70% of crashes and 65% of near crashes had inattention or distraction as a contributing factor. Such distractions include use of mobile phones, consulting satellite navigation and listening to infotainment systems. 

Responsibilities As An Employer 

British weather is unpredictable. Bad weather can strike suddenly so the best advice when severe weather hits is to stay off the road. If a journey is necessary, your drivers should plan and be prepared with such conditions in mind. 

As an employer, you need to ensure your drivers understand this. Consider the best way to disseminate advice and guidance for safe driving in winter weather to staff, such as including guidance in your Drivers’ Handbook and Driving Policy. 

The AA have provided some practical tips on safe driving in ice and snow which may be useful to include in your driving policy/to disseminate to your drivers. 

This article is supported by our risk management partners, Arch Risk Management. For more information, please visit www.archriskmanagement.co.uk. Registration is free for existing Arch policyholders. If you require more information, please contact your local Arch branch manager.