When the weather outside is frightful

Have you prepared your car for winter yet? Longer periods of darkness, snow, ice, heavy rain and freezing fog can make for treacherous driving conditions, so it pays to be one step ahead. Whether you are paid to drive for work or an employer of people who drive for work, it is our collective responsibility to ensure we all play our part in staying safe on the roads this winter.

Before setting out on the road during the winter months, consider whether the journey you are about to undertake is absolutely necessary. It is a good idea to stick to the main roads and ensure someone knows where you are going and your estimated time of arrival. Conditions can change quickly, which is why journeys at this time of year should be approached with caution. To help plan your journeys in advance, it is a good idea to keep up-to-date with weather broadcasts and travel bulletins.

It is important to adjust your driving accordingly to suit the conditions, especially during the winter, when ice and snow make a regular appearance. If it is frosty or icy, stopping distances will be greatly increased. We see more people being killed and injured in accidents at times when road or weather conditions are snowy or icy.
Observation essential
Hazards like reduced visibility and slippery road surfaces mean good observation is essential; if you can’t see the road clearly, you will need to reduce your speed so you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear.
Also watch out for isolated patches and certain gradients which will remain icy when other parts have thawed. A good driver will be on the lookout for these areas. If you drive too fast on a slippery or wet road, your tyre grip will be substantially reduced and the risk of skidding increased.

There is also no substitute for good observations. By easing off the accelerator, you can slow the vehicle rather than braking – a technique which also helps to avoid the danger of skidding (and saves fuel too). Apply smooth gear changes and steering so as not to affect the grip of your tyres on the road surface.
Remember to keep a look out for pedestrians and other road users who may be struggling with the conditions. Driver alertness is crucial. When the weather is bad and visibility poor it is important to ensure drivers keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and maintain a safe speed.

Employers should consider a winter driving policy for their staff who drive for work. One of the questions will be whether, when conditions are very severe, journeys need to be undertaken at all? In extremely bad weather it is best to stay off the roads altogether and firms have a duty to ensure that their drivers take heed of any warnings – either from official external sources or from within the firm – not to continue their journeys.
Any journey scheduling should also allow time for sufficient rest stops and drivers should comply with speed limits and not feel under pressure to rush in order to make up for any delays. Employers should review their emergency arrangements with staff so they know what to do in the event of an accident, breakdown or getting stuck, and ensure that vehicles contain adequate equipment, such as a shovel, tow rope, and working torch.
In addition to checking that company‑owned vehicles are prepared for winter, and remain in a good condition throughout the season, employers could also provide a checklist to encourage staff who drive for work to conduct all the necessary checks on their vehicle.

If you’re an employer based in Scotland, the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA) – see www.scorsa.org.uk – is a valuable source of information and advice about managing work-related road risk.

At RoSPA, we have issued some winter driving tips (to help you stay informed and reduce the risk of having an accident.
Before setting out on the road, check that lights are clean and working, the battery is fully charged, and the windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean and the washer bottle filled with screen wash.

Condition, tread depth and pressure of all the tyres, including the spare is very important. The legal minimum tyre depth is 1.6mm (see ‘tyreSafe urges tyre checks this winter’ panel, right), but RoSPA recommends tyres are changed when they reach 3mm. Consider whether to invest in winter tyres – some maintain a better grip in temperatures below zero.
Check brakes are working as they should do and that fluids are kept topped up, especially windscreen wash (to the correct concentration to prevent it freezing), anti-freeze and oil.
It is also good practice to stock up on de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and anti‑freeze and keep them topped up.
And of course, prepare for the possibility of being stuck. Have a contingency plan and emergency kit ready.
As well as these advance preparations, which can be made before winter sets in, remember to always clear snow and ice completely from windows, mirrors and lights before you set off on winter journeys.
And, if you do find yourself in trouble this winter, do not abandon your vehicle. Call the emergency services on your mobile phone or from a roadside telephone and stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Stay calm and try not to panic.

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