Business doesn’t stop when weather conditions get bad. These tips will help business owners and fleet managers prepare your vehicles and drivers for winter. Use these tips to develop your own winter driving policy or to remind your team how to stay safe on the roads in risky winter weather.
- Install winter tires
- Inspect the vehicle
- Clean all lights
- Wear proper footwear
- Keep the fuel tank full
- Stay alert
- Slow down
- Leave extra space
- Avoid sudden actions
- Turn on the headlights in rain and fog
- Watch for tire spray
- Pull over and wait it out
- Keep an emergency kit
- Consider a roadside assistance membership
- Use vehicle tracking software
Keep reading for full details on these winter driving tips.
1. Install winter tires
Safe winter driving starts with a set of good winter tires. Road conditions can change quickly in the winter and having a good pair of winter tires is the first step in being prepared and safe.
Winter tires should be replaced when the tread depth reaches 4/32”. For reference, when they’re brand new, winter tires are typically 12/32”. It is also important to practice good tire etiquette and never drive with winter tires on during warmer months as this wears down the tires at a rapid rate.
2. Inspect the vehicle
Before hitting the road, it’s important to make sure your vehicles are in good working order and ready to face the winter conditions. When a vehicle isn’t working properly, it puts the driver and others on the road in danger.
Make sure that these inspection items are included in your drivers’ daily checklist this winter.
What to inspect on a commercial vehicle:
- Tire pressure: Checking the tire pressure can save drivers from a headache down the road. For example, this allows you to identify a leak ahead of time and get it fixed before it causes serious trouble.
- Lights: Make sure all lights are working properly. This includes headlights (low beams and high beams), brake lights, tail lights, and signal lights.
- Fluid levels: Check fluid levels including engine oil, antifreeze levels, and wiper fluid.
- Wiper blades: Make sure wiper blades are clear of any snow, ice, or debris, and in good working order.
- Exhaust pipe: You’ll want to make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of any snow that may have built up overnight or while the vehicle was parked outside.
- Spare tire: Check on the spare tire frequently to ensure it has enough air and is in good condition.
3. Clean all lights
This is one of the most important winter driving tips: Always ensure vehicles’ headlights, brake lights, taillights, and signal lights are clean and free of any dirt, slush, or snow. Along with making sure they work, the visibility of a vehicle’s lights will ensure the safety of the driver, the commercial vehicle, and others’ on the road.
Drivers should check their lights before each shift and repeat this step if they find themselves pulled over on the side of the road during low-visibility conditions such as during snowstorm, thick fog, or heavy rain.
4. Wear proper footwear
Having wet and cold feet is enough to make anyone grumpy — but in the dead of winter, it can be a serious safety risk for drivers. Whether driving around the city or on the highway, always wear proper winter footwear.
This will make sure they have proper footing and avoid slip-and-fall injuries when performing the vehicle inspection, when getting in and out of the vehicle, and in the case of a roadside emergency.
5. Keep the fuel tank full
Winter conditions can mean unforeseen and unpredictable delays on the road. Running out of gas on the side (or in the middle) of the road is an easily avoidable mistake if the vehicle’s fuel gauge is kept away from the empty line. We recommend keeping commercial vehicle gas tanks at least half-full at all times.
6. Stay alert
When driving a commercial vehicle during the winter, it is extremely important to stay focused and alert. This means both hands on the wheel, eyes forward and scanning the road and mirrors regularly, and only driving while sober and well-rested.
Eating, exhaustion, and handling a mobile device while driving are all examples of distracted driving that are enforceable by law. Make sure that these risky behaviors are addressed in your company driving policies to keep your teams safe.
7. Slow down
Winter driving can mean a lot of snow and ice on the roads. In these dangerous conditions, it’s imperative that drivers slow down and adjust their speed accordingly. This can often mean driving at (or sometimes below) the posted speed limits.
Pro tip: Advise your drivers to avoid cruise control on winter roads. Cruise control disconnects the driver from the road so they are unable to feel when the tires start to slip and skid.
8. Leave extra space
Slippery and icy roads mean that slowing down and stopping a vehicle takes more time than it would on dry, summer roads. Drivers must keep a safe distance that allows for plenty of time to stop on slippery roads and avoid collisions.
The golden rule in winter conditions is four seconds of space. A good way to figure this out is by selecting a landmark that the vehicle in front of you will pass (e.g. a street lamp, a sign, etc.) then count to four. If your vehicle passes that same marker before getting to four, you are too close. Integrate this simple, yet effective, practice into your driver training to help avoid winter accidents.
9. Avoid sudden actions
Along with leaving plenty of space between vehicles, it’s important to practice smooth driving in winter conditions.
Actions like braking, accelerating, steering, and cornering should all be done gently and with attention. There should be no sudden movements, jerking, or quick maneuvers. Advanced vehicle tracking software can record this type of driver behavior and help to manage fleet operators. More on this below.
10. Turn on the headlights in rain and fog
This tip is often overlooked by many on the roads. Heavy rain and fog drastically decrease visibility — even in the day time!
If your commercial vehicles do not have automatic headlight sensors that adjust according to the conditions, encourage your drivers to manually switch on the headlights beyond the usual daytime running lights. This will both help your drivers to see better and help others see your commercial vehicles in bad weather.
11. Watch for tire spray
When the temperature is close to freezing, watching the spray of closeby vehicles can give you helpful clues on the road conditions. If the roads are wet, there will be some spray that comes from the tires of all vehicles. If the roads are starting to ice, there will be no spray in sight. This is a sign that the roads are likely to be very slippery and a signal to be prepared for black ice.
Remember: Bridges freeze more quickly than roads, so keep your eyes on tire spray when approaching bridges to get a heads up on a change in road conditions..
12. Pull over and wait it out
Should your drivers find themselves in conditions that are too dangerous to drive in, encourage them to pull over and wait it out. Make sure your team understands that when driving conditions become too risky, you expect them to get off the road. Instruct them to find a pullout and keep the hazard lights on; never stop on the road and avoid stopping on the shoulder. Remind them that the vehicle’s lights should be cleaned again when pulling over so others on the road can see them.
13. Keep an emergency kit
Keeping a stocked emergency kit in your commercial vehicles can make all the difference in an emergency situation. We recommend your emergency kit contain the following items:
- Flashlight or headlight
- Extra batteries
- Cell phone charger
- Washer fluid
- Traction mats or other traction devices like a bag of sand or kitty litter
- Power bank portable charger
- Ice scraper
- Jumper cables
- High visibility jacket
- Winter gloves or work gloves
- Tealight candles and matches
- Extra clothes (consider including socks, a winter coat, rain gear, etc.)
- Canned food
14. Consider a roadside assistance membership
Companies can prepare their fleet vehicles and drivers as much as possible for poor weather conditions, but sometimes a little extra help is needed. Flat tires, dead batteries, lock outs, and any issue that requires a tow truck are all instances where a roadside assistance membership will come in handy and quickly pay for itself.
15. Use vehicle tracking software
Especially in a winter storm, knowing where your drivers and vehicles are helps to keep them safe. GPS tracking software gives you visibility when drivers are caught in a storm or need help. It also helps fleet managers see where drivers are experiencing delays and can then relay that information to customers who are waiting.
Force Fleet Tracking offers an easy-to-use GPS tracking system for fleet vehicles. Force collects valuable information about driver behavior such as speeding, harsh braking, aggressive acceleration, and more, which is visible on their RoadScore report. This data helps you understand which drivers are following your safety protocol and enables you to intervene with risky behavior before accidents happen.
Beyond the drivers, Force also helps keep your vehicles safe and secure. The app notifies you when any of your parked vehicles are disturbed in any way. For example if a vehicle is stolen, towed, or bumped, you will get a notification straight to your smartphone. This can help fleet managers keep vehicles safe in winter conditions, even when they’re not on the road.
Keep drivers and commercial vehicles safe
These are the top safety tips for winter driving conditions. We have even more year-round safety tips to consider for a commercial fleet.
If you want to keep your commercial drivers safe and productive this winter, get started with a 30-day free trial of Force today.