Winter weather reminder
Although not all of us deal with snow, most of us deal with seasonal weather related changes in our driving conditions. In the North we have snow, sleet, and ice; in the South rain and fog. The National Research Council (NRC) reports that there are 1.5 million weather related motor vehicle crashes annually. They cause 800,000 injuries and 7,000 deaths.
The number of fatal crashes decreases in the winter, but the number of property damage and non-fatal crashes increases. However, there is an increase in fatalities for elderly drivers (older than 65) during first snowfalls. Experienced drivers who actually think about driving when they drive will have fewer events than inexperienced or thoughtless drivers. Thinking about driving while we’re driving is obviously a necessity. But what do we need to consider ahead of driving?
Vehicle preparation is crucial. Some of us will have trained mechanics check our brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater, exhaust systems, batteries, alternators, fluids (antifreeze and windshield washer) and tires. Others may have crews perform the checks. Have those who are doing the checks been properly trained? Does everybody do it the same way? Are the records of the vehicle checks maintained as a business record? Do supervisors monitor and document the performance of personnel doing the vehicle checks? How about applying common-sense throughout the course of our shift?
Do we keep our vehicles clean, paying extra attention to headlights and taillights so that we may be readily seen? Do we keep our fuel topped off? If we get stuck, we’d like to stay warm, while making sure the exhaust isn’t blocked. If we use chains have they been inspected? What mechanisms are in place to make certain they are installed properly? Are our vehicles stocked with emergency supplies that match the needs dictated by local weather conditions and terrain?
How should we prepare ourselves? If we have a mixed fleet, driving each type of vehicle should be part of the orientation process. Should the first time an employee drives a particular type of vehicle be in inclement weather? When we know that we are going to be exposed to environmental stressors that will negatively impact our driving performance, don’t we have a professional obligation to be in top physical condition, get plenty of rest and not ingest substances that may impair our driving? Over the counter (OTC) preparations may impair driving ability by themselves or interact with prescription medications. Read the label warnings for all OTC medications. Anticipate that the worst side-effects will occur. Check with your physician if you are unsure. Are we properly attired? Do we have sunglasses to minimize glare?
We must stay informed of road conditions. Slow down, increase following distance, decelerate well in advance of turning or stopping, and avoid braking while turning. When going down a hill choose your maximum safe speed at the top of the hill and travel at a slower speed as you descend. Use gentle braking throughout. Don’t wait until you near the bottom of the hill to do all of your braking.
We must also consciously protect ourselves from inexperienced, thoughtless drivers. We must anticipate that they will do the unexpected. Think of the craziest driving behavior in bad weather you’ve observed that put you at risk. How did you avoid a crash? What did you learn from it? Share these near miss experiences with our co-workers. Learn from each other. It’s easier that way.