Planning and preperation – the secret to successful winter chauffeuring

The nights have drawn in and wet and icy conditions are returning to our roads, but what are the responsibilities of operators to make sure that both drivers and passengers are safe when adverse weather hits the country?

Before you hit the roads this winter, Paul Gibson highlights ten issues you should be turning your attention to.

Vehicle Roadworthiness
Winter conditions treat cars badly. The constant use of headlights, wipers, heaters and heated seats work batteries and alternators harder than normal. Cold morning starts also drain a lot more power so it’s always worth checking when the battery was last replaced. A small cost of a new one could mean the difference between getting to the first job, or not!

The type of tyre your vehicles have could make a big difference. Winter/All-Terrain tyres could help massively in
difficult conditions, but you may get some unwanted noise at high speeds. All-Terrain tyres do exactly what they say on the rim, they’re very good at retaining high levels of grip in water and snow and excel in areas that normal road tyres don’t.

Some drivers opt to have two sets of wheels and tyres and swap them over when the cold weather looms. This is a good option if you want to stay ahead of the game and be safer in the winter. Obviously, normal maintenance routines are essential at this time of the year. Keeping on top of washer fluid levels is more important than you think, as it could be rather dangerous not being able to see in front of you because of a grit/salt smear
across your screen!

Preparation of Routes and Places of Safety
Many drivers now use satellite navigation but what happens when things go ‘back to basics’ and they need to find another route or if signal drops out? In these times when a large puddle, an accident or other incident can close a road, it’s essential you’re able to find an alternative route – Sat Nav can be fiddly, which is not what
you want when ‘Mr Bossman’ is sitting in the back seat and you’re making him late because you’re not sure how to re-route. Having good old-fashioned road atlas like the A-Z to hand could save the day!

As a matter of cause, you should be taking note of places of safety just in case of a medical emergency or if your client needs help. These can be Police Stations, Hospitals, Army Barracks or even shopping centres. Basically,
a place where you wouldn’t be on your own if you suddenly become stuck due to the weather conditions.

Mobile Apps / Weather forecasts
Accurate weather forecasting has never been so accessible as most people now have the next few days’ weather easily available on their smartphones. You can however easily get more detailed information for little or no cost, which could prove essential.

An app I use is called ‘RainToday’, it will show you radar images of the previous few hours and for a few pounds a month you can see the radar for the next few hours. I’ve always found it to be pretty spot on and it will show you when and where rain or snow is likely to hit. The Met Office app is also very useful as it has a great facility to let you know when weather warnings are issued in your area. It’s worth downloading and setting it up in case you’re away from the forecast for a while.

There’s plenty of free to use apps on the market for locating people. These are normally used by families so they can keep an eye on their little cherubs, but these can be useful for viewing the location of drivers which is ideal for welfare checks. Operators can create a group and ask their drivers to join it. Search in the app store for Family Locator and you’ll see a few options.

Vehicle Equipment
Keeping some basic essential items in your vehicle is easy – you can generally fit them into a small box and tuck them out of the way. The bare minimum kit a driver should have in their vehicle during the adverse cold weather is a tow rope, first aid kit, hi-viz jacket, blanket and some bottled water. Obviously, always keep a warm coat, scarf and gloves in the car, not forgetting proper waterproof boots.

24-Hour Emergency Kit
To back up your basic kit list, you must remember adverse weather can happen quickly and if you or your drivers are on the road, it’s not always possible to make it home as quickly as you would like.

If heavy snow is looming, prepare to be out for 24 hours. I have a small case in the garage ready to go, which includes some essentials such as a pair of boots, some bottled water, a small fold-up snow shovel (which can be purchased on a popular auction site for just a few pounds) and some other items that would really come in handy if needed.

On top of this you could also consider having a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile on a different network to your other phone, just so you have an alternative option if you have no signal or your battery dies. All sounds rather extreme but how relieved will you be when you get stuck and you need it?

One thing that many people forget is to keep the fuel level high in severe weather conditions just in case you need to keep the engine running to stay warm in the event of gridlock.

Duty of Care – Welfare Checks
If there has already been a large dump of snow, inevitably there is the possibility of drivers being caught in a snow storm. If adverse weather is likely there are considerations that should be made before journeys begin and responsibilities start from when the wheels start turning to when they stop, so it’s important to put
in place procedures to make sure drivers are okay.

If drivers become stuck, operators have a moral and potentially a legal duty of care to get them to safety. Operators should make regular communications with their drivers and also ensure they’ve got recovery on the way or at least they are in a safe place. As a knock on effect, if there are clients in the car, operators have a responsibility for their welfare too.

Driving a 4×4? You’re not invincible!
For some reason, many 4×4 drivers think they have some sort of super-power and they’re exempt from having an accident in wet or icy conditions. In fact, icy conditions make it even more difficult to drive a large 4×4 because of the sheer weight.

If you or your drivers are chauffeuring in a Range Rover for example, it’s your responsibility to make sure they know how to operate the four-wheel drive options available. If they have little experience driving in the snow and they think the ‘Rangie’ would do everything for them – it could go terribly wrong, very quickly.

Modern 4×4’s have handy settings that adapt the drivetrain to various terrains, such as snow, mud and ruts etc. Simply selecting ‘snow’ won’t stop you crashing, so drivers will still need to keep their speed down and remember they’ll be trying to stop a lot more metal when the time comes. Ice takes no prisoners and will make any car slide out of control, four-wheel drive or not!

Be realistic
After all these preparations, a decision will have to be made in extreme weather to see if it’s actually worth putting passengers, drivers and vehicles at risk. Using common sense is paramount. If ‘Mr Smith’ is heading to Heathrow and there’s been a massive dump of snow overnight, then it’s unlikely that flights will be running normally anyway.

If he lives in rural Surrey and you need to get a car there and then on to a destination, the real time realities of providing and successfully completing the job need to be risk assessed very carefully. Although I’m encouraging you to be prepared for adverse weather, I’m certainly not encouraging you to take risks. It’s all about being prepared for the worse, not to make you into a warrior who can battle all conditions

Planning, Planning and Planning
You simply can’t plan enough – if you plan for most eventualities then little can go wrong. Many of the topics covered in this article may never be utilised, but with a little effort you could save a serious amount of embarrassment and clients will be extremely impressed when they realise that you are prepared, resulting in you potentially getting them out of trouble.

Knowledge is power and by addressing these simple topics in this article, it will go some way towards keeping drivers and customers safer this winter.

Paul Gibson

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