One of the first things most drivers will think about when heading out in wintery conditions is adjusting their driving style and speed. Understanding how stopping distances can change drastically when snow or ice is on the road is essential to reduce the risk of collision.
Increased braking distances in snow and ice
According to the Highway Code, in normal driving conditions, to stop safely would require the equivalent of at least six car lengths if travelling at 30 miles per hour, and at least 24 car lengths at 60 miles per hour.i This is without factoring in slippery roads or low visibility.
In wet conditions, braking distances can be doubled, and in ice and snow can be multiplied by ten. This means, in icy conditions, it could take you further than the length of seven football pitches to come to a stop from 70 miles per hour. A driver’s reaction time may also be affected if visibility is low, so it’s important to reduce speed as well as allowing adequate distance from the vehicle in front.
In addition, in snowy or icy conditions, you should use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin whilst taking care not to let your speed creep up. This goes for travelling downhill too—select third or fourth gear to prevent skidding.
Driving tips for wet conditions
Even a downpour of rain can change road conditions in an instant—increasing the risks of skidding, aquaplaning and vehicle damage from driving through floodwater. To reduce your risk:
- Do not attempt to cross a flooded road if you are uncertain of the depth.
- If you do need to go through surface water, drive slowly in first gear to prevent stalling and keep the engine rev count up to keep water out of the exhaust pipe.
- Always test your brakes after driving through floodwater.
- Avoid using cruise control when roads are slippery or it could increase your chances of sliding.
- In the event of aquaplaning, slow down immediately to allow the tyres to reconnect with the road.
Aquaplaning can be caused when heavy rainfall builds up on a road’s surface to a depth of at least 2.5 mm (or 1/10 of an inch).ii It should not typically occur below 55 miles per hour if the vehicle’s tyres are in good condition, rainfall is moderate and the road service is well-drained. However, if any of these conditions are not met, it is possible for a vehicle to aquaplane at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour. iii
Advising your employees
In adverse weather conditions, if journeys are absolutely necessary, plan responsibly—for example, avoiding ungritted roads and steep hills, and known heavy traffic hotspots. As an employer, you should also make your staff know what to do in the event of an accident or breakdown.
Your fleet drivers will be aware of road safety guidance for winter conditions, but it’s worth recapping, as well as ensuring employees travelling to work in their own vehicles know what they can do to reduce their personal risk.
Preparation is key
Before setting out, the tyres, battery, brakes, fuel, oil, heater, cooling system, lights, wipers and windscreen washer levels should also be checked. It is also important to carry adequate equipment such as: de-icer, ice scraper, emergency warning triangle, jump leads, torch, gloves, blankets and warm clothing, food and water.
Tyre and safety experts believe the 1.6 mm legal minimum is insufficient—most recommend a minimum tread depth of 3 mm.iv Tests by the UK technical organisation, MIRA, found that, once tyres are below 3 mm, stopping distances increase dramatically. The difference in wet braking distance between a tyre worn to 3 mm and one worn to 1.6 mm can be as much as 44%.
In foggy conditions, drivers should only use fog lights if visibility is less than 100 metres, otherwise, the lights can dazzle other road users. Once fog lights are on, headlights should be dipped. Any snow and ice should be cleared from mirrors and lights, and heavy snow should be cleared from the top of the vehicle.
Higher risk of vehicle theft
Perhaps one of the lesser-known risks for drivers during the winter is the increased likelihood of vehicle theft. Cold, frosty mornings can mean drivers often leave their vehicles unattended for a few minutes whilst de-icing, presenting an ideal opportunity for car thieves—a crime known as ‘frost-jacking’. Few insurers will pay out for this type of theft because it shows that reasonable care was not taken to prevent the vehicle from being stolen.
The darker mornings are also helpful for vehicle thieves, with three-quarters of vehicle-related thefts (76%) happening during the hours of darkness, according to data from Aviva.v
Keyless entry theft is another method that has increased in recent years, where two or more criminals work together using a device that intercepts the signal between the vehicle and its key fob. This type of theft, known as a ‘relay attack’, can happen in less than 60 seconds. Research by stolen vehicle recovery company, Tracker, shows that 94% of the cars they recovered in 2021 had been stolen without physical access to a key.vi This is why it is important to store a key fob well away from entry points to the house/building, and preferably protect it in a signal-blocking Faraday pouch or box.
Fleet managers and van drivers should also be aware that the global shortage of spare parts means that even in poor condition, vans in particular can be appealing to thieves, as they can be stolen to strip for parts.
How Gallagher can help
Through our specialist fleet risk management services, we help businesses of all sizes to protect their fleet investment and fulfil their duty of care towards employees and the public.
We also provide an online Risk and Regulations Management Toolkit for small and medium-sized businesses, containing self-service tools and assessments for Driving Risk as well as Health and Safety, HR, and Business Continuity. The Driving Risk area of the online toolkit allows businesses to keep up to date with occupational road risk (ORR) issues and other relevant driving and fleet information.