This week, Cape Town residents were at the mercy of a massive storm, with roofs being blown off dwellings, roads closed, trees uprooted – and at least nine people reported dead. According to the South African Weather Service, a storm of this magnitude has not been experienced in the area for almost 30 years, and schools were closed as a precaution. But, just because this hasn’t happened in some time, doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. And with your drivers on the road at all hours of the day, every day, they need all the assistance they can get when it comes to staying safe on the roads.
Here’s how they can prepare for a safe road journey, whatever the weather.
Remember: Weather is often unpredictable and conditions can change suddenly
Your drivers need to be aware of the heightened road risk that can be presented by all types of weather, including:
- rain and hail
- wet, slushy or icy roads
- snow and sleet
- strong winds
- darker evenings and early mornings
- blinding low level sun
- dazzling summer sun
- heat haze
- blowing dust and sand
What you as a manager can do to assist your drivers
It is crucial for fleet managers and drivers to check weather forecasts and traffic news regularly for warnings of hazardous conditions. If bad weather is expected, or has already started, consider re-routing or postponing a journey. Remember that certain conditions are more dangerous depending on the type of road. For example:
Rural roads can be very dangerous in icy weather due to steep hills, sharp bends and the fact that they are often not gritted and are narrow.
Exposed bridges can be dangerous for high-sided vehicles in strong winds.
Heavy rain may cause some low-lying roads to flood.
Consider whether your drivers might become stranded in remote locations and whether they will have to drive at night in bad weather (compounding the risk due to lower visibility). If weather conditions are severe or predicted to be severe (for example, widespread flooding), or weather warnings have been issued, do not let drivers set out on a journey. Ensure all managers understand the risks of driving in dangerous conditions and always put safety first. Instruct drivers who are already somewhere else to make an overnight stay if conditions are severe, rather than press on. Also ensure that a manager is always aware of drivers’ routes, schedules, location and expected times of arrival.
Tips for drivers to follow on the road
Prep your car for bad weather
Inspect windshield wipers.Replace any that have cracked rubber. If your area gets a lot of snow and ice, invest in winter blades, which shed ice better.
Clean headlight covers.When they sit in the sun, they eventually turn yellow and cloudy, and that cuts the amount of light coming from your headlights.
Check tyre treads.Try this – insert a coin (perhaps a R2 coin) into the tyres’ grooves in several spots. If you can see more than half the coin sticking out, the tyres are too worn and should be replaced. And if the place you live gets a lot of extreme weather, consider buying winter tyres. “All-season tyres” are a misnomer. These tyres are made of a dense compound that turns hard as a rock in the cold and won’t stand up to slippery streets. Winter tyres are made from a softer compound, which stays pliable and sticks to the road better.
Get your car winter-serviced.This is important if you live in a cold-weather area. It includes adding winter-grade fluids that resist freezing, like antifreeze, oil, and windshield-wiper solution. Also make sure that the levels are topped off throughout the season.
Stock an emergency kit.Include road flares, a blanket, a shovel, a flashlight, jumper cables, a tow rope, an air compressor, duct tape, and an ice scraper. You may also want to add dry food, water, toilet paper, and warm clothes.
If you’re driving in rainy weather
Slow down by at least eight or 16 kilometres an hour.At certain speeds, your car can hydroplane, lifting off the ground, and you will be driving on a layer of water. If that happens, don’t panic; just slow down until the car feels normal again.
Avoid driving through flooded areas.It will be difficult to gauge the water’s depth. This is dangerous in itself. And if water gets sucked into the air-intake valve and then the engine, the car will probably shut off.
Feather the brakes after you’ve driven through a puddle.And make sure you take your foot off the gas. This creates heat and friction, which will help dry the brakes.
If you’re driving in foggy conditions
Turn on the fog lights.(There’s usually a switch on the dashboard or on the same lever that controls the turn signal, but you can also use low beams in a pinch.) The lights are yellow, which cuts through fog better than white lamps do, and they’re low to the ground so the beams illuminate the road well.
Pump the brakes before entering a fog bank.This alerts the cars trailing you to back off. If you wait to apply the brakes until you’re in the thick of it, you could get hit from behind.
Slow down before a hill.Be extra-cautious driving over the crest of a hill because you won’t be able to see if there’s another car stopped there.
If you’re having car trouble
Make sure your car is out of the way of traffic.Pull off the road and put on your hazard lights. Set out flares around your car so it will be clearly visible to other vehicles. Place three at 100, 50, and 25 feet behind the vehicle. Be careful that they aren’t too close to any combustible grass or vegetation.
Don’t wander off.It’s easy to lose direction in a storm. Stay with your car until help arrives.
Use the floor mats in a pinch.If your tyres are stuck in the snow, you can use cat litter, sand, or the car’s floor mats under tyres to help gain traction. It’s a good idea to also stow a shovel in your boot so you can dig out the wheels. If the car is buried in snow, it’s crucial to first make sure that the exhaust pipe is exposed. If the pipe is blocked by snow, it can send dangerous carbon monoxide into your car.
If you’re driving on snowy or icy roads
Slow down.Even if you have all-wheel drive, reduce your speed to about 16 kilometres per hour below the speed limit. If it still feels iffy, cut back another eight kilometres per hour until you’re comfortable.
Beware of black ice.It’s nearly impossible to see this crystal-clear glaze, but you can spot it when your headlights reflect off the road at night. It tends to form:
on bridges, which trap the cold;
in the shadows of tall buildings, where the sun can’t hit it; and
at intersections, due to drains.
That’s why, in bad weather, you should slow down a couple of hundred feet before stop signs and lights.
Avoid tailgating.On the highway, leave about 300 feet (about the length of a football field) between you and the car ahead of you to give you plenty of room to stop in case that person brakes suddenly. Still, it’s close enough to use his headlights to see what’s up ahead.
Don’t brake during a turn.To avoid a spin-out, gradually start turning the steering wheel and feathering the brakes lightly before the curve. Then coast through the turn with your foot off the brake and off the accelerator, so as not to gain speed. When you have your foot on the brake, the wheels stop turning. That’s when the car loses control and goes in any direction that momentum decides to take it, like a toboggan.
Turn into a skid.Remain calm, take your foot off the brake and the accelerator, and turn the car in the direction the car is skidding. For example, if you’re sliding to the left, gently turn the steering wheel to the left. This cancels out the skid. The car corrects itself and goes straight. If all else fails and you have the option to do so safely, leave the road and drive the car into a snow bank.