‘Winterizing’ Your Drivers’ Driving Habits

By David Kolman  
Roadways will be even more congested during this Holiday season, crowded with even more preoccupied drivers. Add inclement weather to this mix and you get ever-more stressful driving conditions and a greater likelihood for accidents.
By this time, fleets have typically prepared their vehicles for winter operation. Many fleets, however, overlook “winterizing” their drivers’ driving habits. Driving on ice and snow requires different techniques than driving on dry roads. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare your drivers for the challenges that come with delivering beverages during this hectic time of year.
Attitude adjustment — Drivers can expect increased traffic with more inattentive drivers so they will need extra patience. Because of these traffic conditions, a cell phone should only be used for emergencies, not while driving, even if the phone has a hands-free device. Additional time to reach delivery locations should be factored in and routes reconsidered to plan trips upon which fewer delays would be expected.
Defensive driving — Defensive driving becomes even more important because the holidays always bring out more distracted drivers, and sadly, intoxicated drivers. There is also the need to be more observant as visibility is often limited  by weather conditions.
Aggression management — Being extra courteous can help avoid “road rage” from other drivers. Remind drivers to always use turn signals and emergency flashers, and not to tailgate. If your driver does something to anger another driver, advise them to simply wave an apology and not engage in inappropriate finger and hand gestures or get into an argument. A minor annoyance can easily and rapidly escalate into an unpleasant confrontation that can dampen one’s good mood, or worse, become dangerous.
Pre-trip inspection — Heavy traffic and colder weather places greater stress and strain on vehicles. Drivers should thoroughly inspect their vehicles before starting each trip, looking for defects or problems.
Conditions check — It is always beneficial to check current road conditions and the weather forecast before your trucks leave on their appointed rounds. You can have this information available for them. There are a number of real-time traffic and weather reports available on the Internet and through phone services.
Driving conditions — Vehicle speed and following distance need to be adjusted to the existing conditions. The worse the conditions, the slower the speed and the greater the following distance. Remind drivers that any sudden change in steering, braking or acceleration on slippery surfaces can cause tires to lose their grip on the roadway, resulting in a loss of vehicle control. Driving maneuvers should be done purposefully and gradually when driving on ice and snow covered roads. And drivers should be cautioned to be aware of  dangerous conditions such as:
Bridge decks typically freeze before the road surface.
Shaded areas on the road often do not thaw as quickly as those exposed to sunlight.
Hard to see patches of ice (black ice).
Areas of the road that are covered with leaves are usually slippery.
Bright sunlight reflecting off snow-covered ground can pro- duce “blinding” conditions. (Wearing sunglasses helps pro- tect the eyes and prevent exces- sive eye fatigue.)
Falling snow can have a hypnotic effect.
Unexpected emergencies — Trucks should be equipped with a first aid kit, ice scraper/snow brush, flashlight, folding shovel (to free the truck if it’s “snowed in”), bag of sand or some burlap (for traction if the wheels become mired in snow) and a warm blanket (for warmth should the engine quit), among other things. It is also a good idea for drivers to take along some water and food.
Clean vehicles — Drivers should make the effort to clean their vehicles completely of snow and ice. This will help avoid sheets of ice and snow flying off and hitting nearby vehicles. The windshield, windows and mirrors should be kept clear of snow and ice.
Washer fluid — On a really snowy or messy day, a driver can easily go through a vehicle’s reservoir of windshield washer fluid. The fluid should be checked on a daily basis. Keeping an extra bottle or two of the fluid on a vehicle never hurts.
Overindulging — Drinking or eating too much can make a driver feel tired. And be advised, turkey contains a natural sedative.
A final thought. Reward your drivers for desired behaviors. Behavior that is reinforced usually will continue. If you want to increase driver safety and performance, it’s important to recognize and reward these kinds of behaviors.
David Kolman is a veteran truck communicator, keynote speaker and long-haul trucker. Commissioned as an Honorary Colonel on the Kentucky governor’s staff for his work promoting traffic safety, he actively participates in trade associations, and reports news and information about the trucking industry for broadcasting and print media.