(Don’t Go) Dashing Through the Snow

Each winter hundreds of people are killed and thousands more are injured in preventable vehicle collisions. In addition to the gamut of regular driving hazards, drivers face slippery roads, winter precipitation, reduced visibility, fewer hours of daylight, and more. In this article we’ll cover some tips to mitigate some of these hazards. The costs of motor vehicle collisions are only going up, especially in regards to liability payouts, as distracted driving incidents become more frequent. We strongly encourage your organization to address safe winter driving techniques, and possibly consider scheduling our Driver Training Simulator, which is a service provided at no additional cost to program members. Contact Lori Sieverkropp to schedule an appointment.

S l o w D o w n

This simple safety step is a leading factor in auto collisions regardless of season, and is also the step that drivers most consistently ignore. No driver is immune to the temptation to speed, but many drivers forget that maximum speed limits are designed for optimal roadway conditions. If conditions dictate a reduction in speed, such as fog or ice, then there is absolutely no reason to continue driving at, or above, the speed limit. Consider having employees sign a policy or agreement to keep to speed limits when driving for work purposes, even if they are running late.

Watch for Wildlife

Keep a sharp lookout, especially at dawn, twilight, and other times visibility is reduced. If you see one animal remember there may be others nearby. If an animal is caught in your headlights, slow down, flash your lights, and use your horn to help break the trance. However, don’t forget about other traffic; slamming on the brakes to avoid hitting a deer isn’t much use if the driver behind you rear-ends you. Likewise, swerving wildly is more likely to cause an accident than prevent one, especially if roads are slippery.

Know your Roads

Be cautious of any patches of road that are thrown into shadow. Even if conditions are bare and dry there’s a high likelihood there may still be ice in shaded areas. Remember that bridges and overpasses are more prone to icing up faster than other places. And it’s not just ice that can cause a driver to lose control of their vehicle – leaves and mud can be just as slippery as ice.

Sunglasses Aren’t Just for Summer

A winter wonderland of snow and ice can cause severe glare in bright sunlight. Always have sunglasses handy when you drive. Also make sure windshields are clean – both inside and out – before starting the vehicle, as dust and smudges can become magnified when illuminated by bright sunlight.

Plan Time into Your Drive

Plan for more time to reach destinations in winter than it would normally take. Regularly check the weather forecasts along your planned route and factor predicted conditions into your journey. Build in more time even if forecasts are optimal; weather and other conditions can change rapidly in winter. This is an excellent habit for reducing risk for all-season driving as well – by removing the possibility of being late, the incentive to speed lessens considerably.

Make Some Space

Tailgating is a bad habit at the best of times, but in winter it becomes exponentially more hazardous. Many drivers are familiar with the “three second rule” which means drivers should allow at least three seconds of space between them and the car in front in optimal conditions. In winter, it is recommended you should allow your vehicle anywhere between 10 to 20 seconds (PropertyCasualty360°). This provides drivers ample time to react if the driver in front of them has a collision, encounters a hazard or difficulty, goes into a skid or spin, or if they simply need to stop quickly. If 10 to 20 seconds seems excessive in theory, keep in mind that it probably wouldn’t if you actually found yourself on an icy road watching an accident unfold in front of you. It is especially important to give extra space to larger vehicles, such as vans, commercial vehicles, tractor-trailers, and snow plows, which cannot stop quickly and have larger blind spots than most vehicles.

Skid Correction 101

Many winter accidents are exacerbated when a vehicle goes into a skid. The instinctive response of most drivers is usually to slam on the brakes, which is why it is important to mentally rehearse the proper response: remain calm, don’t accelerate or brake too hard, and handle the steering wheel lightly. “Real time” skid practice is another benefit available through our DTS simulator.

Save Cruising for Summer

Cruise control can be a handy feature, but it is highly recommended to save it for when roadway conditions are bare and dry. When improperly utilized, cruise control can actually contribute to accidents. In winter, drivers need every extra second of response time that they can get. While we still recommend allowing extra time for journeys and keeping adequate distance from other vehicles, refraining from using cruise control can also help add precious seconds to your response time if you do become part of a developing roadway incident.

Headlights, Day and Night

All drivers use headlights at night; it would be practically impossible to drive in the dark without them. But what about in the gray of early morning or the murky twilight hour, or even during the day? At these times headlights may have little to no effect in improving visibility from the driver’s point of view, but it can help other drivers spot your vehicle from further away. Safe driving relies heavily on sight, and when you’re driving in conditions where visibility is impaired or reduced – or worse, if another driver is distracted – you’ll want your vehicle to be as visible as possible so that others can see you approaching.

Daylight Savings Driving

It is safer to drive during the day. Even if your headlights are the best money can buy, a wide radius of influence around your vehicle will always be swathed in darkness at night. It also becomes very difficult to detect hazards approaching from the sides, such as wildlife, pedestrians, or bicyclists, as well as hazards that have not come into view of your headlights that you otherwise would have seen well in advance, thus reducing your reaction time. While it is likely impossible to completely avoid traveling at night in winter, encourage your employees to try to drive during daytime hours whenever possible, and try to arrange for scheduling that allows for this as well.

Have Storm, Won’t Travel

Every year travelers around the world face the dilemma of whether or not a long-anticipated trip is worth the potential risks of traveling during a winter storm. When it comes to driving for business, we recommend that discretion is the better part of valor. If travel advisories have been issued, or even if conditions simply don’t appear to be ideal, we strongly recommend either canceling or postponing your trip, if possible. The best way to stay safe in dangerous winter weather is to not go out into it in the first place.

Follow “Stranded” Protocol

When stranded, the best thing to do is stay with the vehicle, if possible, which can make an excellent shelter, especially if it is equipped with an adequate emergency kit (see previous article). The vehicle will also help rescuers locate you, especially if you set out flares or other markers indicating that your vehicle is in distress. Only leave the vehicle if conditions there become unsafe and there is a building within reasonable walking distance for conditions (which may not be very far, especially if snow is deep and if you have inappropriate footwear). Only run the engine 10 minutes per hour, in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning in the cab. Make sure your exhaust pipe remains clear of any blockages as well.

Please be safe on the roads this winter! For more information on winter driving safety, contact your broker or risk manager, and consider scheduling the DTS for your drivers.

Information for this article was obtained from the following sources:

Winterize Your Vehicle Fleet to Minimize Claims in Deep Freeze Months

15 Tips for Driving Safely on Ice and Snow

Icy Road Safety

North Central ESD Safety Matters: Fall Driving Hazards