It’s that time of year again — roads can be slick with ice and snowfall is accumulating, and driving can be more risky and dangerous than during the warmer-weather months. What can drivers do to keep safe while traveling in adverse winter conditions?
According to William Van Tassel, Ph.D., manager of driver training operations at AAA, one crucial thing fleet drivers should do in winter weather is adjust their speed according to road conditions.
“If there’s heavy rain, snow, or ice, you might lose about one-third of your traction. To maintain the same degree of traction you have when it’s dry, you should drop your speed by about that same percentage,” Van Tassel said.
In addition, Van Tassel recommended allowing for more space around the vehicle, particularly in the front. This space allowance can help drivers prepare for icy patches or other low-traction conditions.
“When conditions are clear and dry, you’d normally follow behind a car by three or four seconds. In more difficult conditions, you want to be six, eight, or more seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. If the vehicle ahead has to hit its brakes or starts to swerve, you’re going to have more time to respond,” Van Tassel said.
Preparing for the Road
Before drivers get on the road, fleet managers should ensure company vehicles are prepared for inclement conditions.
First, ensure each vehicle is stocked with supplies in case of an emergency, such as tools, flares or reflective triangles, and jumper cables.
In addition, fleet managers should have vehicle components checked regularly, particularly the engine, brakes, battery, and tires. According to Van Tassel, fleet managers should ensure drivers check a vehicle’s tire pressure once a month, as well as examine tire tread. Specifically, tires should have at least four thirty-secondths of an inch of tread, Van Tassel said.
The AAA pamphlet “How to Go on Ice and Snow” recommends drivers wear warm and comfortable clothing that provides freedom of movement. In addition, the pamphlet suggests that drivers position their seat so they can more effectively see the road and perform the precise and smooth movements necessary for safe winter driving.
Before leaving their parked position, drivers should turn on their headlights, Van Tassel added. “You’re about twice as visible to other drivers when you have your headlights on. You really want them to be able to see you,” he said.
Driving with Caution
Once on the road, motorists can use driving techniques to stay safe in harsh conditions. In particular, Van Tassel emphasized that drivers perform one act at a time when braking, turning, and accelerating — all while doing those things smoothly.
“We like to tell people to pretend there’s an egg under the accelerator pedal. You want to very gently squeeze the pedal so you don’t break the egg. Likewise, pretend your brake pedal is a sponge, and you’re trying to gently squeeze water out of the sponge. You want to be very smooth with your application,” Van Tassel said.
If a driver gets caught in a skid, Van Tassel recommended focusing on the road while continuing to steer normally. “We think it’s important for drivers to remember that cars don’t lose control — drivers do. So, if a car is skidding, it’s generally because a driver has asked a car to do more than it can do,” he said.
Ultimately, for driving in winter conditions, drivers need to even more vigilantly follow the basic principles they should already remember every time they get behind the wheel: Be cautious and be prepared.