Keep your fleet moving during winter

Fleet managers are under more pressure than ever to ensure that drivers are able to deliver, whatever the weather, so what are the options?

There was a time when the only option to keep driving during the winter was to get an agricultural 4x4 and hope that your most experienced drivers would be able to cope with whatever the weather threw at you. Thankfully, times have moved on, technology has brought us a wealth of options and drivers can be trained to use them simply and efficiently. We provide several courses aimed at preparing drivers for winter, including:

Winter tyres, snow socks, chains, 4x4s and training:

For many companies changing vehicles is not an option, in the short term at least, but the simple addition of winter tyres (with the 3 Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol) is guaranteed to improve safety and effectiveness during winter driving conditions. These tyres will improve the ability to get moving, but will also improve braking and steering control in the snow.

Snow-socks are the modern equivalent of snow-chains. Made of fabric, they are simpler to fit than chains and don’t risk damaging road surfaces. A simple toolbox talk to familiarise drivers with winter tyres and snow-socks (including a practical session on fitting snow-socks), should be the only addition to a company’s standard driver safety programme.

Vehicle technology has improved, with anti-lock braking (ABS) and emergency stability programmes (ESP) fitted as standard on most modern vehicles. In addition, traction control will often help drivers get moving, as long as they know how to use it but, if drivers don’t understand how it works, can often be seen as interference. Ensuring that drivers understand this technology and that it will help them stay safely on the road is essential. There are several clear and simple training videos available to help drivers to see the advantages of, rather than wanting to switch off, these essential safety devices.

For those fleet managers looking to upgrade their vehicle stock with a view to improving their winter capability, there are several options:

  • Intelligent traction control systems are becoming more common. These systems, often with a ‘winter mode’ built in, will adjust how the vehicle technology works to ensure that they help control wheelspin under acceleration and ensure the best directional control under braking on snow and ice. Combined with winter tyres these systems will often perform better than a basic agricultural 4x4 in the hands of a driver who understands how they work. Vehicle manufacturers and specialist trainers can provide familiarisation training for drivers when they pick up their shiny new van or company car.
  • All-wheel drive systems and ‘crossover’ 4x4s often require no driver input, so can be a real benefit during winter. Though there is often a trade-off between cost and fuel efficiency, modern vehicles are improving dramatically and there are estate car 4x4s with carbon emissions below 125g/km. For engineers and small van drivers who really need to get from A to B during the worst of the weather, this is often a better option than having a full-size 4x4 available ‘just in case’. As these vehicles do all of the transmission magic to turn them into four wheel drive vehicles themselves (usually based on information from the wheel speed sensors), then for drivers who need to get out and about during the winter, a simple snow and ice awareness defensive driving session should cover the training requirements.

However, there are always those drivers who really do need to get through, whatever the weather. For these essential workers the only option is often a fully functional 4x4, with the added clearance required to get through deep snow, as well as traction aids such as differential locks to ensure wheels keep moving.

There are a lot of 4x4 training courses available, but often these are off-road based and not suitable for the risks associated with driving a heavy, high centre of gravity vehicle on the road. Drivers of these vehicles must be able to use all of the equipment they are fitted with in order to both stay safe, and make efficient use of what are an expensive addition to any fleet, however they are purchased.

Many utility companies and emergency service providers require drivers to be out even when the official advice is to keep off the roads. Adequate training has to be undertaken to ensure that this elevated risk is reduced. Under PUWER, drivers of specialist vehicles need to be trained in the ‘correct use of the equipment, the risks that may arise from its use and the precautions to take’. Specialist driver training providers are available to deliver winter 4x4 driving courses, both on-road and in reduced grip conditions and companies should insist that trainers are registered both as DSA Approved Driving Instructors and as accredited trainers working within a recognised 4x4 training body. This will ensure their legality and competence to provide training suitable for on-road winter driving.

Whatever option you choose, remember that driving is ‘the most dangerous work activity that most people do.
Look ahead, plan ahead and anticipate problems so that you can deal with them smoothly. Braking distances during winter can be extended by up to 10 times those on dry warm roads.

In fleet management planning for winter, and anticipating those problems, can make all the difference to driver safety. When it comes to the bottom line, it can make the difference between days worked and days lost.

(Adapted from an article which first appeared in FleetPoint.)

For more information on how Beyond Driving can help you and your fleet during the winter, please contact us.