Driving in the winter brings with it a unique set of challenges, even for experienced drivers. From adverse weather conditions to longer periods of darkness and reduced visibility, there are plenty of hazards that commercial drivers need to be prepared for each and every winter.
To minimise the risk to your fleet and help keep your drivers and vehicles out of harm’s way, here are our top tips for safer driving during the winter months:
Plan your journey
Preparation is key when driving in winter conditions – here’s how to stay one step ahead:
Check the weather
Regularly look at the forecast before setting out on the road. Weather can change rapidly in the winter, so be mindful of the latest updates and travel bulletins and be prepared to change your route if necessary.
Allow plenty of extra time for your journey, especially during bad weather, and also consider whether your journey is absolutely necessary – especially if warnings are in place. Whatever your business, it’s always better that deliveries are delayed or services are rescheduled than lives are put at risk.
Plan your route
Stick to main roads wherever possible, especially during snowy or icy weather. Major roads are more likely to have been cleared or gritted, reducing the chances of accidents significantly. This will also make it easier for breakdown services to reach you if anything happens to your vehicle.
Don’t forget to plan alternative routes in case your chosen path becomes inaccessible, and be flexible – it’s about choosing the safest route, not necessarily the shortest.
Carry emergency supplies
No matter how good your driving is, there’s always a chance that things could go wrong – pack a winter driving kit just in case. This way, if you get stranded due to flooding, snow storms, or a vehicle breakdown, you’ll have the essentials on board to last you until help arrives.
Essential items to include:
- Warm and waterproof clothing
- A battery pack to keep your phone charged
- A well-stocked first aid kit
- A working torch
- Anti-freeze, ice scrapers, and windscreen wash
- A shovel
- A hazard warning triangle
- A blanket
- Long-lasting food and drink
- A tow rope
Assess your health
Winter is the peak season for colds and flu, so be realistic about your ability to drive. If you have symptoms and feel like your illness could affect your driving, don’t risk it.
Likewise, many cold and flu medications cause drowsiness, which can seriously inhibit your reaction times. Always read the label when taking any medicine before you travel, and don’t drive if you’re likely to put yourself and others in danger.
Prepare your vehicle
Always check your vehicle thoroughly before you set off to ensure everything is in good working order. In particular, focus on:
Stopping distances can increase significantly in winter weather conditions, so your tyre pressure needs to be correct. As well as making sure your tyres aren’t underinflated, keep an eye on tyre tread too – the minimum legal tread is 1.6mm, but at least 3mm is recommended for safe winter driving.
40% of collisions on UK roads occur during hours of darkness, with reduced visibility being a major factor. With fewer hours of daylight, this makes driving in the winter especially dangerous, which is why it’s so important to check your lights are functioning properly. Ensure all lights – including fog lights – are working and free from obstruction, and also check that they’re properly aligned and adjusted to avoid dazzling other drivers.
Delays are likely during winter months, so always check your fuel or charge levels before you set off. Having at least a quarter of a tank of fuel – or extra charge in your battery, in the case of EVs – is advisable in case you hit unexpected holdups on your journey due to poor weather.
To reduce the risk of your screen wash freezing as you drive, make sure you’re using it at a higher concentration than in warmer months. Keep washer levels topped up as you’re more likely to need to clear dirt from your screen, and make sure that your wiper blades are in good condition and working well.
Clear your windows and mirrors of snow and ice completely before you start your journey, ensuring you can see properly through the front and rear screens and all windows. It’s also a good idea to remove any snow from your roof, as this can fall onto your windscreen and obscure your vision whilst driving.
Driving in rain
The winter months in Britain bring with them heavier and more frequent rain showers – don’t underestimate how much this can affect your driving. 12% of all road accidents occur during poor weather, with 90% of these taking place in rain.
More water on the roads means more potential hazards – including reduced visibility, greater stopping distances, flooding, and aquaplaning. Slow down when driving in rain and remember that your braking distance will be double, increasing from 2 seconds to at least 4 seconds. Leaving a bigger gap between yourself and the vehicle in front will ensure that you have plenty of time to come to a safe stop when necessary.
With surface water on the road, your chances of aquaplaning are greater, which is why it’s important to travel at lower speeds and keep your tyres well inflated. Driving too fast could result in your vehicle losing its grip on the road and floating on the water – if this happens, ease off your accelerator and brakes until your speed drops enough for you to make contact with the road again and regain control.
You’re also likely to encounter floodwater on the road – do try and avoid standing water wherever possible, especially if the water is moving or deeper than 10cm. If you do have to drive through deep water, drive slowly in a low gear and keep your engine revving by slipping the clutch to avoid stalling. Avoid going too close to the kerb as this is usually where floodwater is deepest. And remember to always test your brakes afterwards.
Driving in fog
Fog is one of the most dangerous weather conditions to drive in, as the poor visibility can often lead to multi-car pile ups. You should avoid driving in heavy fog unless your journey is absolutely necessary.
If you do find yourself driving in foggy weather, remember to switch on both your headlights and your fog lights. As visibility improves, switch off your fog lights to avoid dazzling the driver behind you or obscuring your brake lights. As a general rule, if you can see the vehicle behind you, they can see you and the extra lights are no longer necessary.
Turning off the radio and opening your windows can also help when you’re driving through fog, as you’ll be able to hear other vehicles. This is particularly useful if you can’t see oncoming traffic at junctions.
Keep to lower speeds and avoid speeding up if visibility suddenly improves, as you could find yourself in another patch of thick fog only moments later. Also, make sure you continue to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you, rather than following the rear lights closely, as this can be dangerous if you unexpectedly need to brake.
Driving in ice
If you find yourself travelling on an icy road, you’ll need to adapt your driving style accordingly. Reduce your speed and avoid harsh braking, rapid acceleration, and sharp steering. Do everything slowly and gently, as sudden movements could cause your vehicle to lose traction and skid.
You’ll also need to adjust your braking distance. Braking distances on ice can be 10 times the normal distance, meaning your vehicle will continue to travel a significant way after your initial reaction. On a motorway, this could mean you’d cruise for an additional 0.75km before coming to a stop, which is why it’s so important to travel at lower speeds and keep your distance from the vehicle in front when driving on ice.
It’s not always easy to tell when you are travelling on icy roads. If the road surface looks wet but there’s no spray from vehicles passing you, this is usually a good indication that you’re driving on black ice. You’ll also find that there’s virtually no noise coming from your tyres, and that your steering feels lighter or less responsive.
In the event that you do find yourself skidding on ice, take your foot off the accelerator and avoid sharp braking – instead, turn into the skid to regain control of your vehicle. Skidding is particularly likely when approaching sharp bends and corners, so always aim to slow down in plenty of time in order to steer your vehicle smoothly when you reach the bend.
Driving in snow
As with driving on ice, gentle manoeuvres and slow speeds are the key to staying safe when travelling in snowy conditions.
If you get stuck, don’t try and power your way out of the snow by revving your engine – this will likely make things worse. Instead, straighten your steering and move your vehicle slowly back and forth in the highest gear you can. If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to clear the snow from your tyres or ask for a push.
If you’re caught in heavy snow, don’t leave your vehicle. Instead, wait for help to come to you by calling your breakdown company or the emergency services.
Driving EVs in winter
Driving an electric vehicle in the winter is not unlike driving a petrol or diesel vehicle – all the above advice still applies.
However, there are a few thing to be aware of when driving your EV in colder weather, chiefly the reduction in range. EV batteries do not perform as well in lower temperatures, and of course more energy is also used for heating and lighting. In fact, when the air reaches freezing temperatures, EV range can be reduced by as much as 40%. And when batteries are colder, they take longer to charge, so you may be looking at longer charging times too. When driving an electric vehicle, you’ll need to factor these considerations into every journey throughout the winter months and plan accordingly.
So, whilst the winter weather may present a series of challenges to fleets and commercial drivers, by following our winter driving tips your business will be able to stay prepared, mitigate risk, and keep drivers and other road users safe during the colder months. After all, by ensuring fleet vehicles are kept in great condition and reducing dangerous driving behaviours, you’ll be in a far better position to not only navigate the hazards of wet or icy road conditions but to prioritise fleet safety all year round.
If you’re looking for a fleet management solution that can help you experience lasting results when it comes to improved driving performance, contact us today to find out more about Lightfoot’s advanced driver training technology. Combining an in-cab driver coaching device that delivers real-time driving feedback with a driver rewards app for ongoing incentivisation and engagement, our fleet management system makes safer, smoother driving the norm across the entire workforce. Offering vehicle tracking software for petrol, diesel, mixed, and EV fleets, it’s the ideal solution for improving fuel economy, road safety, fleet sustainability, and compliance in all conditions.