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As colder months and harsh weather creep in and traffic increases due to holiday travel, it’s the perfect time to prepare your fleet drivers and vehicles for the road ahead.
Beware the “W” words
That’s right, winter is here—and with it comes inclement weather. As colder temperatures, rain, sleet and snow begin to bombard a good portion of the United States, driving conditions become more treacherous for your fleet drivers and the chances of accidents increase. Consider this: “On average, there are 5,891,000+ vehicle crashes each year. 21% (nearly 1,235,000) of these are weather-related (occurring in adverse weather like rain, sleet, snow, fog, severe crosswinds, or blowing snow/sand/debris, or on slick, wet, snowy/slushy or icy pavement).”1
With winter just around the corner, there’s no time like the present to look into tactics to help improve vehicle and driver safety – and it’s also important to realize that weather isn’t the only factor when it comes to unsafe seasonal driving conditions.
Holiday travelers clog roadways
In addition to unfavorable weather, fleet vehicles and their drivers often contend with a sharp uptick in the number of cars sharing the road during the months of November, December and January.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, travel to a destination 50 miles or more away increases by 54% over Thanksgiving weekend and by 23% during Christmas and New Year’s Day.2 And last year, AAA predicted that from Christmas to New Year’s Day, 107.3 million Americans would travel at least 50 miles from home for the holidays, with more than 90% driving to their destinations.3
This increase in traffic means more drivers (some in a hurry) are vying for space on highways and interstate routes at a time when weather-related driving conditions increase everyone’s overall risk. Investing time in driver safety programs and proactive vehicle maintenance can help your organization mitigate fleet risk and up the chances that your vehicles and drivers can have a successful – and uneventful – seasonal journey.
A smoother journey: Coach fleet drivers on safety protocols
The cost of ignoring safety can be extremely high, but the risks intensify during the winter months and congested holiday travel times – and those risks can include driver injury, vehicle damage, increased insurance premiums and a negative impact on your brand reputation.
The time for fleet managers to address safer driving behavior with drivers is before an incident occurs. This proactive preparation can be accomplished by embracing modern mobile workforce technology and utilizing coaching features to reinforce safe driving habits.
The following are recommended steps in the formulation of a driver safety program:
- Ensure you have a commercial GPS vehicle tracking system with the ability to monitor, report and alert your fleet managers about speeding events and harsh driving incidents (such as hard braking, quick starts and harsh cornering).
- Be sure the technology has a built-in app for fleet coaching that allows managers to quickly record and upload a video, whether it be a few tips for driving through an impending storm or a friendly reminder on how to control speed when going downhill.
- Make sure managers know they can also use the mobile platform to share near real-time statistics about how many folks are on the road and current weather conditions, and as a form of two-way communication with drivers.
- Use the system to collect 15-30 days’ worth of data to establish a safety baseline for each of your drivers.
- Allow fleet managers to leverage that data to be proactive with drivers in near real time, using the information to have “coachable moments” to either highlight speeding/harsh driving tendencies or reinforce positive driving behaviors.
- Be sure you ultimately implement a driver safety incentive program tailored to your fleet’s goals. Focus on outreach to drivers who require extra training or reminders of driving tactics to avoid during winter and holiday months (stopping too quickly on icy roads, following the vehicle in front too closely, etc.).
In it for the long haul: Ensure fleet vehicles are properly maintained
When it comes to seasonal roadway safety, ensuring your vehicles are in top shape is just as important as ensuring your fleet drivers are in top form. According to a study by the International City/County Management Association, maintenance costs correlate more closely with mileage than with a vehicle’s age, so maintenance costs skyrocket for vehicles driven more than 20,000 miles annually.
The good news is, with modern telematics technology, it’s easy for fleet managers to know how each vehicle part is performing and when maintenance is due based on annual mileage. But mileage is just one factor impacting the health of your fleet. Even if your fleet doesn’t cover a lot of ground on the road, worn out brakes, decaying tie rods, failing engines, unchanged oil, un-rotated tires and more can have a devastating impact on driver and vehicle safety – and that’s in good weather and traffic conditions. Imagine how dangerous a neglected vehicle can be in icy or snowy conditions, during times of increased holiday road congestion, or both.
Establishing a routine of regular vehicle maintenance doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By embracing an automated mobile telematics platform, fleet managers can ensure timely vehicle inspections are conducted and keep near real-time tabs on the condition of all parts. This includes monitoring tire pressure, establishing service plans and having access to early warning alerts when vehicle parts are failing or close to their service date. In addition, technology can help you keep these other considerations for winter driving top of mind:
- Get moving. Recent studies have found that idling your vehicle to warm it up on cold days isn’t as effective as warming the engine by actually driving. Idling, not only wastes fuel, but also strips oil from engine cylinders and pistons, creating more wear and tear on the engine.4
- Fuel up. Always make sure you have at least a half-tank of gas during cold weather. Otherwise, any space above the fuel in the tank fills with moist air and condenses to water in the cold. Water is denser than gasoline and settles to the bottom of the tank. If enough accumulates, it will move through the fuel line to the engine, causing a massive maintenance headache. 4
- Eye the little things. Make sure wipers work well, that windshield wiper fluid is topped off, and that an emergency roadside kit is in every fleet vehicle (it’s not unheard of to get stuck in a 50-car highway pileup during a January snowstorm).
A GPS tracking solution helps you “weather” the travails of holiday road travel
Winter weather and holiday travel are just two reasons why technology that supports proactive safety and vehicle maintenance protocols is crucial to fleet success. But there are many other situations throughout the year that will require the use of modern mobile platform tools.
That’s why choosing the right mobile tracking solution for your fleet is so important. It must be flexible enough to fulfill your business needs and robust enough to provide value-added capabilities during winter weather, holiday traffic or at any other time. Be sure to look for one that offers:
- Access from anywhere: The ability to view data and maps on any device at any time
- Detailed maps: Letting you view near real-time activity and current status of all vehicles, workers and equipment (especially important during inclement weather or in the case of an accident)
- Easy-to-use dashboards: Showing you up-to-the minute fleet analytics
- Coaching modules: Helping fleet managers underscore safe driving behaviors 365 days a year