It’s obvious. Fleet collision rates increase during autumn and winter. Less daylight, slippery roads, fog, high winds: causes behind the greater incidence of collisions are well known. But can you quantify an increased risk of vehicle damage between November and March? Not without examining annual trends, and all too few fleet managers have either the time or the inclination to do so. If more did – and hence created proactive preventative risk management strategies – they’d probably have far fewer winter weather woes.
So, with UK Transport plc about to enter one of its busiest periods, how will you handle the threat of bad weather? Dr Will Murray is research director of eDriving Fleet, a global provider of driver safety management systems. One of its long-standing clients is BT of which Murray says: “Over the 15 years we’ve monitored BT claims information, snow and ice is a common cause of spikes in the data – as is exposure to risk. Almost all the spikes [in incidents] are related to poor weather or changes in the volume of work.”
For Murray, there’s no question that weather plays a major-role in collision statistics. “Comparing BT’s collision rates in 2009 and 2015, and they clearly show a similar seasonal pattern,” he confirms. Ironically, service companies like BT face additional problems when the weather is bad, as more people work from home. Thus, as the upkeep of BT’s broadband service becomes critical, more of its vehicles are likely to be out on the road at a time when weather conditions raise the risk of an incident.
Judging when to take pre-emptive action is a skill fleet managers need to master, as Murray explains. “Wind is also a factor. We know of one UK logistics-operator that delayed stopping its vehicles by one hour and lost six trucks, which overturned in the wind.”
Could it have been avoided? What self-help is available? There are plenty of on-line information sources (see panel below) that forecast inclement weather. Meanwhile, Murray insists that training and good communications are critical. And he adds: “We have our on-line RiskCoach module that lots of companies, including Asda Home Shopping and Nestlé, use to make their drivers aware of the risks of driving in bad weather.”
When it comes to managing road risk and reducing incidents, though, the joint HSE/DfT ‘Driving at Work’ guidance document (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf) provides a solid starting point. It also includes a section on weather. “It’s an excellent minimum standard, and we’d advocate its use by all organisations requiring their people to drive,” states Murray. However, while the publication offers basic advice, Murray maintains it’s up to organisations to use it. “Managers are the key in engaging their co-workers who need to use the road, and also at making and allowing decisions about when it’s too risky to drive.”
There’s the rub. Clearly, no guidance document can provide definitive ‘this is the time to take action’ advice. But by conducting an analysis of historic fleet collision data, examining the time of year/day, as well as the type and severity of incident, it’s possible to build a picture of which weather-based driver-training is required and when. An example might be understanding increased risks to vehicles operating on country roads. “Defensive drivers will see mud on the roads as a risk and drive accordingly, particularly where there are lots of farm vehicles,” explains Murray.
Being able to quickly advise drivers of deteriorating weather is equally important, according to Peter Millichap, marketing director at Teletrac Navman, whose ‘Director’ telematics allows managers to stay in touch with drivers through messaging functions. Should a vehicle be involved in a collision, adds Millichap, fleet operators can use Director as well as in-cab cameras to get a picture of how the accident took place, and decide what steps need to be implemented to prevent a similar situation in future.
Ultimately, managing and allowing for problems caused by bad weather is just one part of an effective road risk management program that any operator should have in place, stresses Murray. “The DfT has been very proactive in supporting good practice, tools, gap analysis and benchmarking. However, the challenge is always finding managers in the transport sector with enough foresight to use them and take action to minimise risks. The Occupational Road Safety Aliance’s www.fleetsafetybenchmarking.net is an excellent example, which every manager in transport should be using.”
After more than 25 years working in collision research and road risk management, Murray concludes: “The transport sector could do more to help itself. There are plenty of excellent resources out there.”
Weather warnings on-line
Highways Agency England’s website at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/highways-engla... has traffic information.
Traffic Scotland has a weather section at http://trafficscotland.org/weather/ while Traffic Wales www.traffic-wales.com/VoyagerNews.aspx?NEWSID=306 also has advice on winter preparation, as has Traffic Northern Ireland http://trafficwatchni.com/emergency-news
The Met Office offers a five-day advance weather information service at www.metoffice.gov.uk/services/industry/retail/haza...
Its DemandMet Hazard forecast has been developed for logistics and health & safety departments.
Manging risk virtually
eDriving Fleet has developed several road safety management tools, including its Virtual Risk Manager (VRM, www.virtualriskmanager.net/main) –an online system for driver risk assessment, monitoring, and improvement. “VRM helps bring organisational policy to life through risk assessment, data integration [assessment, coaching, DVLA checks, fines, telematics, tachographs, etc], coaching and benchmarking,” says research director Will Murray.
“Sustaining road safety, through innovative risk-led processes, has been at the heart of our approach for 20 years. We provide research-led, yet practical, proven, long term sustainable driver safety programs.” eDriving Fleet clients include several major OAO and 3PL transport fleets, including BT, Nestlé, TNT, ASDA, Royal Mail, Coca Cola and Arval.
Preparation is key
Bullwell Trailer Solutions looks after more than 5,000 trailers, with mobile engineers based throughout the UK. Managing director Gary Bulley insists the key to safe winter driving is preparation. “When bad weather is forecast, it’s even more important that drivers undertake vehicle inspections prior to driving – including ensuring lights and wipers are clean, levels are correct and tyres have a good tread depth. When faced with colder temperatures and wet weather, regular services and independent periodic checks are vital in ensuring trucks and trailers remain roadworthy.”
During winter months Bulley reports that the most common faults are in vehicle braking systems. When the temperature drops below zero, water in the air can cause the braking system to freeze. “Whereas many drivers resort to putting anti-freeze down the braking lines, there’s really no need as long as your recent service has declared the vehicle’s air-drying system defect-free.”
Freezing temperatures can also damage wiper blades so it’s doubly important that drivers carry out vehicle inspections. And although tyres should be routinely inspected, Bulley reckons: “Winter roads provide little traction, so good tread depth is critical. UK law states that HGVs should have at least 1mm tread depth to ensure they have good grip on the road. In winter, a vehicle’s braking distance is longer so I’d advise changing tyres as soon as they get any lower than 3mm.”
Ultimately, says Bulley, if trucks and trailers are serviced and tested to DVSA standards and the manufacturer’s specification, there’s no reason why they should experience severe problems during winter. However, he adds “It’s up to individual drivers and fleet management to ensure such standards are adhered to. They become more important as the weather gets worse.”