DES PLAINES, Ill. --- Traffic accidents are the leading cause of on-the-job deaths and with winter weather already here, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is offering tips on how to stay safe when operating vehicles in bad weather. "Employers and workers who drive for a living must be aware of how to drive in winter weather conditions such as snow, sleet or ice," said ASSE President Michael W. Thompson. "One of the leading causes of death during a winter storm is driving accidents and multiple vehicle accidents are more likely to occur in severe weather conditions." According to the National Research Council (NRC), in the United States 7,000 fatalities, 800,000 injuries and more than 1.5 million vehicular crashes annually are associated with poor weather-related driving conditions. Also, according to a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the first snow day of the year was the most dangerous, as more crash-related deaths occurred during the first snowfall of the season than other snow days in the year. To keep workers and the public safe on the road, ASSE offers the following tips for safe winter weather travel: ** Wear your seatbelt. The driver and any passengers should always wear a safety belt. ** Be careful when driving on bridges and overpasses. Elevated roadways are the first roadways to freeze in winter conditions such as snow, sleet or ice. ** Reduce speed and increase following distances between vehicles. A vehicle needs three times more space to stop on slick or icy roads. Visibility is also more difficult in winter weather conditions. ** Do not drink and drive. In 2005, 44 percent of the 398 fatal crashes that occurred on Christmas were alcohol-related and 50 percent of the 471 fatal crashes that occurred on New Year's Day were attributed to alcohol. ** Stay in your vehicle if stranded or stalled and wait for help. Drivers should carry a cell phone or two-way radio, with a charged battery, in order to call for help and notify authorities of their location. ** Do not travel in vehicles if temperatures are extreme and expected to be between 20 and 34 degrees below zero. An employer whose employees may drive in areas that experience cold winter weather should consider equipping each vehicle with a winter storm kit that includes items such as blankets, a flashlight, cell phone with charger and extra batteries, a shovel, first-aid kit, non-perishable food, extra clothes, water container and more. Hypothermia is a potentially dangerous exposure during extremely cold winter months. Employees suffer from hypothermia when they lose body temperature in cold weather as a result of exposure. Employers and employees should also take the following steps to be safe on the road in winter weather: ** Plan ahead and allow plenty of time to travel. Businesses should maintain information on employee driving destinations, driving routes and estimated time of arrivals. Be patients while driving in winter conditions because travel time can increase in snow, sleet or ice. ** Make sure vehicles are winterized. Before driving, have a mechanic look at the battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshields, washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, tire tread and oil level. Carry a windshield scraper for ice and snow removal. ** Check weather conditions before traveling. According to the National Weather Service, a winter storm watch alerts the public of the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, freezing rain or heavy sleet. A winter storm warning is issued when a combination of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain or heavy sleet is expected. A winter weather advisory is issued when accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle and sleet may cause significant inconvenience and moderately dangerous conditions.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials