Vehicles play an essential role in the daily operations of many businesses. Yet they also introduce the risk of potential incidents occurring on the road. When such incidents occur, they can carry costly consequences. In fact, the average crash costs a business $16,500; if a fatality is involved, these costs can exceed $500,000.1
What’s more, the risk of incidents can be compounded by seasonal driving conditions. Even the most experienced drivers could end up in dangerous situations behind the wheel due to seasonal driving exposures — whether it’s icy roads in the winter or heavy traffic in the summer. Therefore, it’s vital for businesses that utilize vehicles to understand the unique driving risks present within each season and inform their drivers about such hazards. After all, driver safety education has proved helpful in reducing crash rates.2 Here’s an outline of seasonal driving exposures and best practices to bolster drivers’ awareness.
Throughout winter, there are various adverse weather conditions — snow, ice, hail and fog — that can lead to road safety hazards.
Almost one-quarter (24%) of weather-related crashes stem from snowy, slushy or icy roads, whereas 15% occur during snowfall or sleet. These crashes cause 116,800 injuries and 1,300 fatalities each year.3
Reducing their speeds and taking extra precautions when stopping, changing lanes or turning corners will help drivers stay safe in these conditions. In severe winter weather, drivers should find a safe place to park to wait out the storm until conditions improve.
Snowplows often emerge on the roads during this season. Although these vehicles can help clear the roadways, their large size, slow speeds and frequent stops can also make them a hazard to other drivers. When driving near snowplows, drivers should utilize their lights to make themselves visible, increase their following distance and allow plenty of room when passing.
Winter is also associated with the holiday season and a range of celebrations. Although this is certainly a joyful time of year, the common presence of alcohol at holiday events can heighten the risk of impaired driving incidents occurring on the roadways. Over 10,000 people are killed in alcohol-impaired incidents each year, contributing to 28% of traffic-related deaths and costing an annual total of over $44 billion.4 To prevent incidents with impaired motorists, drivers should extend their following distance, watch to make sure others stop at intersections and be extra cautious when driving at night.
During spring, the re-emergence of warm weather typically leads to a range of changes on the road. In many parts of the country, this time signifies the beginning of highway construction season. As such, the presence of work zones, construction personnel and heavy equipment near the road can create hazards.
Thousands of work zone crashes occur each year, resulting in significant vehicle damages and injuries. What’s worse, these crashes contribute to over 770 fatalities annually.
To stay safe when traveling through work zones, drivers should follow all traffic signage, reduce their speed and remain focused on the road ahead.
The spring season is also often accompanied by an increase in the number of motorcyclists present on the road. Due to the nature of motorcycles, these vehicles are usually not as visible to other drivers within traffic and are less stable than their four-wheeled counterparts. Over 5,000 motorcyclists are killed on the road every year,6 so drivers must be aware of motorcycle collision risks. To safely share the road with motorcyclists, drivers should increase their following distance, be particularly cautious when passing or changing lanes, double-check before crossing an intersection and clearly indicate their movements on the road with proper signaling.
In some areas, spring brings severe thunderstorms and flooding. During this time, it’s important to ensure that vehicle tires have adequate tread, windshield wipers are in good repair and lights are operational. It’s also vital for drivers to be particularly cautious when rain starts after extended periods of dry weather, as oil buildup on the road mixed with rainwater can create a slippery driving surface. Additionally, drivers should slow their speeds to prevent hydroplaning where water collects on roadways, and should be extremely careful when approaching roadway depressions, where water depth is difficult to gauge. If necessary, alternate routes should be taken to avoid flooded roads and prevent stalling their vehicles or being washed off the roadway.
When summer arrives, roadways across the country generally become more crowded with vacation travelers. Apart from causing increased traffic congestion, these out-of-town motorists may unintentionally pose several additional safety hazards. Because such motorists are often less familiar with local roadways, they are more likely to engage in unsafe behaviors (e.g., sudden braking or quick lane changes), putting other drivers at risk. Additionally, these motorists may have trailers to pull campers, boats and other recreational items despite possibly not having experience driving with trailers or connecting them correctly. To avoid potential incidents with vacation travelers, drivers should refrain from speeding or tailgating — especially if these motorists seem unfamiliar with their surroundings or are driving with trailers.
Summer also typically entails a greater number of pedestrians and bicyclists appearing on or near the roadways, many of which may be children on summer vacation. Both pedestrians and bicyclists can be less visible to drivers, creating serious safety concerns. These individuals are particularly vulnerable to being struck by distracted drivers, as nearly 20% of fatalities from distracted driving incidents are among pedestrians and bicyclists.7 To prevent collisions with these individuals, drivers should eliminate any distractions behind the wheel and always pay close attention to their surroundings on the road.
The fall season is met with children going back to school, marking the return of school buses to the roadways and kids waiting for their buses at designated stops. When sharing the road with school buses, drivers need to keep all applicable safety regulations in mind. In particular, drivers are required to brake and refrain from passing when school buses make their designated stops to pick up or drop off children. Failing to do so could not only lead to potential legal ramifications but also crashes involving both the school buses and any nearby kids.
Due to the size of these buses, crashes are also more likely to injure or kill occupants of other vehicles. Of all the individuals harmed in school bus-related crashes over the past decade, over half (53%) were occupants of other vehicles.8 So it’s critical for drivers to prioritize safe driving practices near school buses. Some drivers may require additional training on this topic, considering that many school bus operations were largely interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic this past year.
Fall is also the start of deer-vehicle collision season, with 40% of all deer-vehicle collisions occurring between October and December. During this time, deer hunting, crop harvesting and the deer mating season result in more deer moving across roadways, increasing the risk of deer-vehicle collisions. These collisions can lead to severe injuries and fatalities as well as major vehicle damages. Although the likelihood of such incidents varies based on location, these incidents have been on the rise in recent years. An average of 190 motorists are killed from collisions with animals each year.10 To minimize the risk of being involved in deer-vehicle collisions, drivers should exercise extra caution when traveling through deer-crossing zones and be especially attentive while driving during peak deer hours — which are 5 a.m. through 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. through 9 p.m. Further, drivers should brake firmly but remain in their lane if a deer crosses their path; swerving to avoid hitting the deer often results in additional injuries and damages.11
Best practices for preparing drivers
In light of these seasonal driving exposures, it’s important for businesses to take steps to make their drivers aware of such risks and how to mitigate them. Here are some best practices for businesses to consider:
- Know the risks. Seasonal driving risks can vary based on location, so before informing their drivers about seasonal driving hazards, businesses should evaluate their specific exposures and determine which risks apply to their particular area. For instance, a business in the Midwest will probably face more severe weather-related exposures in the winter than a business in the South.
- Ensure frequent communication. As a new season approaches, businesses should proactively plan to incorporate information about upcoming hazards within a range of their communications. This way, drivers can receive consistent reminders about seasonal risks and their associated mitigation methods. Specifically, these hazards should be addressed in:
- Routine safety meetings
- Driver training sessions
- Texts, emails and workplace postings
- Individual check-ins and ride-alongs
- Pay special attention to new drivers. Businesses should be sure to assess whether certain drivers need additional communications or resources related to seasonal exposures. For example, a driver who has never driven in snow before may require further education than just a text or email ahead of the winter season. Instead, this driver may need a tailored safety training course. Businesses should encourage their drivers to reach out if they feel they need additional guidance on navigating seasonal hazards.
- Stay updated with 511. The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains an online/phone resource known as 511 that offers updates on traffic concerns, road closures and ongoing highway construction projects across the country. Businesses should use this resource to monitor local conditions and keep their drivers updated on potential delays or alternative routes. If road conditions lead to delays, businesses should ensure that they remain compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service rules. Whether regulated or not, drivers shouldn’t be kept behind the wheel for excessive periods, as this can lead to fatigue. When delays occur, businesses should make sure to inform all necessary parties. For instance, customers should be notified if road conditions are going to result in late deliveries.
- Utilize vehicle technology. Businesses should leverage vehicle technology to address seasonal driving risks. In particular, telematics can help businesses monitor drivers’ behaviors on the road. Telematics can detect issues such as speeding, hard braking and turning corners abruptly. Drivers may engage in these behaviors to make up for any lost time caused by seasonal concerns (e.g., delays from a highway construction project). By using telematics to identify these problems and discuss them with drivers, businesses can emphasize the importance of putting safety first on the road rather than rushing to stay on schedule.
Every season can carry its own set of driving risks. Nevertheless, by reviewing seasonal hazards and making an effort to inform drivers of these concerns, businesses can minimize potential safety incidents on the road and reduce subsequent liability exposures.