Jan 23, 2024

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 Building a culture of safety during inclement weather requires preparation and driver training. That begins with a plan and good communication.

With tornadoes in Florida, record-high tides in Maine, and bitterly cold weather across the U.S., 2024 is already shaping up to be an active year for weather events—and the year has just begun. It’s imperative to have a plan if fleet drivers encounter the worst of Mother Nature this year.

Millions of Americans were under winter weather warnings this week over wind chill, winter storms, and hard freezes. While meteorologists on TV advise families and individuals how to stay safe during extreme weather, information on how fleet owners and truck drivers should protect themselves and remain safe while on the job is harder to find.

“When fleet owners are trying to worry about weather and being prepared, they’re solely focused on their vehicles,” said Eric Frey, director of global product management at Powerfleet. “They’re doing the normal things that are good, such as vehicle inspection reports, making sure that braking and lighting systems are working. Those are all good things. But my opinion is that… they don’t spend enough time training their drivers.”

Training is critical to keeping drivers and other motorists safe during weather events. Frey said incorporating a safety culture into a fleet can make all the difference in turning a situation from bad to worse.

Prioritizing fleet safety 

A safety culture isn’t built by using one safety training course or undergoing one coaching session. Good driver safety programs include ongoing training, such as annual refresher courses and regular conversations about what you expect from drivers when weather becomes hazardous. After all, safety is “a continuous learning experience,” Frey told FleetOwner.

When developing a safety culture concerning weather events, the training starts with data collection, or what Frey calls the “ABCs:” accelerating, braking, and cornering events by truck drivers.

“Those are things that would allow us to identify that perhaps you have an aggressive driver,” Frey said.

In-cab visibility, which can be captured using front-facing and driver-facing cameras, can further determine a driver’s habits by detecting distractions such as wandering eyes, fatigue, eating, or smoking while driving. Telematics systems, such as those offered by Powerfleet, can capture video data along with GPS data and compile it into driver safety scores for fleet managers to review. From there, managers can use video and telematic evidence to coach their drivers into developing safer driving habits.

Frey said Powerfleet recommends fleet managers use these videos to help drivers identify when they’re exhibiting risky behaviors, such as tailgating, and the negative impact it can have on safety, especially in conditions where “it’s going to take twice as long to stop in the rain or 10 times as long to stop in snow and icy conditions.”

Most importantly, Frey said the biggest mistake fleet and safety managers can make when facing inclement weather is never having that initial safety conversation with their drivers.

“If you’re dealing with a severe storm and cell connectivity is out, or radio comms are down, if (drivers) are not aware of what to do and what action to take… they don’t know the difference between a flood watch or a flood warning or a blizzard watch or blizzard warning, those are really critical items to tackle ahead of time,” Frey told FleetOwner.

Some telematics providers, such as Lytx, Trimble, and Drivewyze, also include severe weather alerts in their services. Frey said choosing a provider that automatically updates or alters truck routes when weather impacts driving conditions is a good idea.

Steps to safer fleet practices during inclement weather 

Fleet and driver safety during inclement weather requires fleet owners and managers to cover their bases. That includes vehicle maintenance, both preventive and seasonal, and ensuring up-to-date inspection reports. Further, it’s crucial that managers “have access to how those vehicles are maintained,” which goes beyond paper records and now includes vehicle data collected over time, Frey explained.

Another active step is to ensure drivers are trained and aware of steps to take when inclement weather does occur. Drivers should be mindful of how to drive as well as when it’s best to pull over. Frey believes it’s also a good idea to keep an emergency kit in each fleet vehicle with supplies to help keep drivers comfortable if they lose power or run out of fuel.

Finally, a fleet should use the technology available to them. Fleets should always have some form of technology in the cab of each vehicle, whether it’s simple location tracking or in-cab cameras that allow fleet managers to coach their drivers in real time.

“It just comes down to being vigilant and being prepared with your vehicles and being prepared with your drivers,” Frey said. “Make sure that you cover vehicles, drivers, and then have visibility to what’s happening.”