Survive Your Drive: Winter Weather Edition

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Winter Weather Video – Complete Script:

The Winter Weather Season presents challenges to all businesses each year.  It is important that we take a moment to remind ourselves of some best practices related to driving so that we keep the awareness levels up with our drivers and employees.  My name is Paul Roberson, Regional Loss Control Director for Acadia Insurance Company’s New Hampshire and Vermont offices, and I’m joined by Tom Stanton, one of our NH Loss Control Representatives.  Today we are going to discuss several best practices to help your business succeed over the next few months in the world of risk management.

Everyone understands that, as a country, certain geographical areas receive snow annually, while locales such as Florida, other than a freak storm, do not.  This visual depiction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, otherwise known as NOAA, does a good job illustrating this.  It also gives us a baseline for understanding our winter weather challenge with respect to other parts of this country.

Narrowing our focus to the region which we live and operate in, what do you observe?

Visually, nearly 60-70% of this region receives an average of 3 feet of snow or more over the course of the season, with a substantial portion of our region tallying 6 feet or more!  This reinforces the severity of the season and the risk management challenges it presents when considering operation of a motor vehicle.

Yes, the last couple of seasons have produced less than average snowfall amounts, but it’s still important to realize we can receive snowfall anytime, and in any amount.

Expanding upon this, winter in the Northeast is a challenging time for our company’s driving based activity.  Whether it is behind the wheel of a passenger vehicle, a delivery van, or a truck tractor, our driving behavior is even more critical.  We have to pay special attention to the increased hazards and the impact they may have on our business each day.

In the Northeastern states, winter weather can arrive any time after September.  According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the earliest recorded snowfall in NE is in July atop Mt. Washington.  Granted we are not driving the auto road every day to work, but it is a reminder that snow can arrive any time, not just in December.  The Halloween storm in 2011 was a reminder of that when some areas of the Northeast saw upwards of 20” of snow.

Without question, variable weather conditions lead to substantial challenges associated with driving conditions.

In addition to the physical act of snow, we also have many other challenges associated with winter.  Our days are growing shorter as we approach the Winter Solstice, and Daylight Savings time takes place in early November.  Often times our drivers are starting and ending their day in the dark.  This presents physiological challenges and necessitates that drivers and supervisors are rested and paying attention to the body’s signs relating to fatigue, illness, and other crucial health items that impact safe driving.

As we were discussing previously, winter brings variability in our weather.  Some days we have abundant sunshine, and other days we have poor visibility due to wind and snow.  Freezing rain, sleet, and fluctuating day to night temperatures complicate matters even more, presenting challenging conditions.  In this regard, it’s one very important reason to make sure that your vehicle is properly maintained and operating efficiently to best handle these conditions.  Make sure you’ve got good windshield wipers, adequate fluid levels, and tire pressure and tread depth are maintained.  Insufficient attention to any of these items will affect your vehicles operability.

Municipal, state, and private snow plow contractors create challenges for us as well, with growing snow banks at intersections, stop signs, and at the entrances to and from our places of business. Extra caution is a must in these situations to avoid incidents.

Removing snow and ice accumulation from trailers should be an almost daily task to avoid serious accidents and injuries to other motorists.  And we also have to be sure to keep our parking lots and entryways free and clear of accumulation, not just for our patrons, but to keep our employees safe as well.

A defensive driver is a safe driver, and in winter conditions this becomes more critical.

Surely, we’ve not provided an exhaustive list, but it is clear that we have to be on our “A” game during the winter season to keep people and property safe.

Once on the road we need to take into consideration that maneuvering, speeding up, and stopping, requires more time and care.

Did you know that at 65mph, your car requires at least 300 feet of stopping distance?  That’s a football field!  Your loaded rig would require almost 550 feet to stop, nearly twice as far.  And this doesn’t account for snowy or icy roadways, which would only increase this distance requirement.  Even at slower speeds, you simply more time and distance to stop when there are adverse conditions.

Again, it’s very important that we drive defensively, but also with increased care so we can respond appropriately to changing driving environments in the winter.

To help, there are some fundamental best practices relating to driver and vehicle management that can assist your business in reducing the number and cost of auto incidents during the winter.  These practices can and should be expanded to year round activities, but are especially important this time of year.

Setting expectations for your drivers is essential.  There should be core principals and behaviors that your business is looking for in a driver and these should be formally conveyed.  Drivers should acknowledge and sign off signifying receipt of these expectations, and they should become part of the driver’s personnel file.  These two efforts are the most important to establish a foundation.  Without these, the third aspect becomes difficult, if at all possible.  That third aspect is there must be consequences for violating behavioral expectations.  Establishing a formal disciplinary program is critical to an effective driver management program.

Any activity undertaken should have an element of proper planning.  When driving in hazardous conditions, this is very important.  Know your route, weather forecast, and make sure that you are properly prepared for weather related incidents.

Vehicle care is of utmost importance.  Tread depth, tire inflation, brake pads, rotors, and the like, are crucial to ensuring that your vehicle will respond in an emergency situation.  Yes, winter road conditions complicate your vehicle’s ability to respond, yet this is still an important aspect.

Keeping your employees aware of weather conditions, proper vehicle operation, limiting distractions, and other pertinent topics, can positively impact behavior and contribute to loss prevention measures.  Behavior modification is challenging enough without external factors, but requires regular, persistent attention by your management and supervisory staff.  The returns on this investment can be plentiful.

First, let’s talk about driver management.

When we say “driver management,” it can mean different things to different businesses.  For example, if you run a fleet of 100 truck tractors, your approach is much more formalized due to volume than that of a business that runs a fleet of 8 delivery vans.  As a rule, this tends to be true.  However, it is our strong suggestion that ANY investment in managing your driver pool, regardless of size and complexity, is worth your time.  Each auto you have on the road has policy limits riding on the bumper, so your exposure is high in nearly every use of those autos.

Some best practices include:

Annual Motor Vehicle Record Reviews, with preset communicated acceptable criteria, such as having no more than 2 moving violations and one at-fault accident in the previous 3 years.  MVRs should be reviewed at hire and then annually.  When you are operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle subject to Federal Motor Carrier Regulations, this is a requirement and should be part of a Driver Qualification File.  If a record becomes unacceptable, then corrective action should be taken.  All of this should be acknowledged up front, so drivers understand the standard to which they are being held.  In some cases, it may make sense to check a record more frequently if a driver’s record indicates at-risk behavior.

Ride-alongs, road observations, and similar activities are good in-the-field methods to not only understand driver challenges, but also reinforce positive behavior.  The more you observe behaviors, the more you can coach and correct to the desired performance.

Increasingly communicate best practices and desired behaviors; in doing so, you will improve awareness.  Keeping your drivers in tune with what you want them to accomplish, and accomplish safely, goes a long way.  An invested driver is a safe driver.  Then you are better equipped to enact disciplinary measures to correct poor behavior individually and across the company and to reinforce expectations.  Drivers talk, so your actions run deep in the driver pool.

Lastly, but only as it relates to these select best practices, is the idea of retraining.  In targeting the behaviors you are reinforcing, retraining is a core part of any behavioral modification process.  When dealing with a driver who was driving too fast for conditions (i.e. snow covered roadways), conducting a targeted, one-on-one session focusing on why proper speed and space management is critical in snowy weather can help reinforce positive behavior.  Retraining can be done in any manner, as long as it brings the driver back to the desired best practice.

Another core best practice is to properly plan for your trip.  This starts with management, dispatch, and supervisors, but also relies heavily on drivers being personally and professionally prepared as well.

We all have the ability to know weather forecasts ahead of time.  Use that ability to plan ahead by either taking different routes, altering start/stop times, or by cancelling vehicle activities altogether if weather severity warrants doing so.

Providing drivers with safety reminders when winter weather is imminent and prior to starting their routes in wintery conditions is a good, positive, and useful manner to reinforce behaviors.  Further, if you have a dispatcher, providing regular weather updates to the drivers is favorable.

You should communicate with your customers as well.  In some cases, timeliness is crucial, but in most, proactive communication with the customer about delayed arrivals is understood and acceptable.  This will take the pressure to meet customer needs off of your business, despite weather, and also off of your drivers.  If the driver does not arrive safely, the customer’s needs will not be met anyway.

Regardless of your business, vehicle maintenance is an integral part of fleet safety.  It keeps your business running.  When you are operating Commercial Motor Vehicles subject to Federal Motor Carrier Regulations, there are more requirements you must adhere to, such as a formalized maintenance program, maintenance record retention requirements, pre- and post-trip inspections, and similar activities.  Even without this requirement, all businesses using vehicles should pay close attention to the maintenance of their fleet.  It improves reliability in emergency situations and responsiveness when needed.  Inspecting tire wear and tread depth, along with proper inflation, can not only help your vehicle operate but also save on fuel costs.

In the winter season, it is also critical to check the following on a daily basis:

Wipers, to ensure no damage and that they are free of snow and ice accumulation;

Washer fluid levels, so that you do not run out during your trip, which can reduce visibility;

Ensure that all lights are functional, visible, and not covered with grime and/or snow/ice;

And also review the gas level prior to starting a trip to avoid being stranded roadside during a winter event.

Lastly, if your vehicle is equipped with ABS brakes, make sure that they are in proper working order, maintained, and that your drivers are trained in how ABS brakes function.  If a driver has no experience with them, it can be surprising that first time.  Our normal reaction is that something is wrong, and we subsequently remove pressure from the brakes, which is incorrect.

All of your efforts relating to maintenance are important, particularly when weather conditions are less than ideal.

In reinforcing all of the best practices previously discussed, it is important to discuss some additional elements specific to behavioral modification.  When it comes to vehicle operation, it is one of the most autonomous job duties in any industry.  Once he or she has left your facility, they are, in effect, on their own.  Bad behaviors quickly settle in.  Your challenge, particularly during the winter, is to instill desired behaviors in your drivers at all times.

Here are some suggestions that we believe work well in helping your business accomplish such measures:

Set the expectations – lead this with a message from the owner or president.  Safety and health of employees should be a priority over production, and employees should hear this from the person in charge.  Employees and drivers respond when messages like this come from those at that level of the organization.

There must be management/supervisory oversight, with follow-up and corrective measures taken when poor behaviors are displayed.  Drivers must know that there are consequences for poor behavior.

And lastly, do whatever you can to promote and recognize positive behavior.  Recognition goes a long way, and others will strive to be the one receiving recognition.

Some friendly reminders of other concepts that can help you prevent auto accidents include:

Stay calm during a skid event.  Regardless of speed, they can be frightening in turn causing you to react with haste.  Remember the function of your ABS brakes, and enact the skills taught to you when controlling a skid.

As much as we speak about what you can do, be extra cautious and attentive to the “other” drivers around you.  Anticipate that they are not driving defensively or with care, and you will be better prepared to react.

To the same point, slowing down sooner is important.  Don’t leave yourself little time to brake, or come to a complete stop.  It won’t happen.  It’s easy to be frustrated in these conditions, but it will be even more frustrating if your carelessness causes you to rear-end another vehicle.

Lastly, take a second, and stop and think.  Think about what you are doing, act accordingly, and arrive at your destination safely.

Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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One response to “Survive Your Drive: Winter Weather Edition”

  1. Michelle Winn says:

    Nice job, Paul and Tom! Great information!

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