Winter is approaching and the UK has a tendency to slow down and grind to a halt in poor weather. But with preparation, diligence and a little know-how there is no reason why a fleet cannot operate at near-normal performance levels.
Here are ten tips for winter driving for a driver in an LGV fleet:
A stressful driver is more likely to make mistakes and to miss what is going on around them. Mental preparation and planning for a journey will stand you in good stead.
In severe conditions your boss and those at your destination will understand if you’re running late – stop clockwatching. Additional time should be agreed with your customers. Listen to the radio reports or liaise with those at the depot to and try to avoid bottlenecks or areas of particularly severity. Social media may also help.
Check the vehicle…
Are the windows and mirrors clear, and are the wipers working properly with good blades? Are your fog lights working? Spend some time making the normal, obvious checks that you would in winter with other vehicles, as detailed in Autocar.
…and its tyres
Ideally vehicles will be fitted with winter tyres and chains in prolonged periods of poor weather, but if not there are still a few preparations you can make.
Check the tyre condition and tread (a minimum of 5mm), and make sure the engine levels are topped up. According to the Freight Transport Association an LGV’s performance can dip by at least 10% if it is not maintained properly.
Be alert for change
A feeling of ‘light’ steering may mean ice, falling snow can reduce visibility, rain can obscure the windows. All of these can happen very swiftly, so be prepared at all times. If you’re struggling in freezing, dark weather the odds are that others around you may labour as well, or get into difficulties. Small cars can suddenly skid, and motorcyclists can veer sideways. The fitting of monitors and cameras from companies such as Brigade Electronics can help with blind spots when surrounded by vehicles.
Slow, careful driving will help the journey. If you’re not sure if you need to indicate because there are no other cars around, then do so anyway. If other, smaller, faster cars are around, let them pass. Above all, let snow vehicles do their job.
Adjust your braking distances
The drive should be smooth and steady, with concentration on the vehicles ahead paramount. That means driving slowly, but not slowly enough to frustrate drivers behind you (eg 30mph on a 50mph road). Stopping distances are lengthened with a lorry – at 70mph the distance is 409ft in normal weather, and throwing in ice adds further distance. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least ten times the normal stopping distances on icy roads.
Change lanes slowly
Remember your blind spots and take an extra look in your mirrors before shifting over. A rule of thumb for some drivers is three blinks of the indicator in good weather, and more in winter, before moving over. Road markings may be obscured so be wary, and turning quickly can be perilous, so be wary.
Don’t just stop!
There will be occasions where you can barely see anything – fog, snow and murky darkness conspire to eliminate your view completely. If you can’t see, then neither will other drivers behind you, and the potential for crashes is obvious. Instead, pull over or crawl forward until you reach a layby. Sometimes, of course, the matter will be taken out of your hands…
If you’re stuck in snow…
If possible engage the diff-lock, switching it off as soon as the vehicle begins moving, or use high gears to increase traction. Revving in a low gear could create a trough around the vehicle’s tyres, increasing the risk of a deeper paralysis.
If the worst comes to the worst and your lorry gives up you’ll probably have most of the items you need already if you have a sleeping compartment. But in winter pack extra water and layers, a shovel, a warm drink in a flask, a torch, and a fully-charged spare mobile phone. It’s a cliché, but fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.