Staying Safe on Winter Roadways

A winter driving safety policy cuts down on accidents on snowy and icy roadways.

By Alexandra Walsh

Driving is one of the highest-risk activities an employee can undertake. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, snowy and icy conditions account for nearly 40% of weather-related vehicle crashes annually, injuring more than 100,000 people in the United States each year.

Employers have a duty to see to it their employees are safe when driving for business. We are in that time of year when treacherous winter road conditions call for a heightened duty to be careful.

Although employers cannot control roadway conditions, they can promote safe driving behavior by emphasizing workers recognize the hazards of winter weather driving. If employees must drive on snow- and ice-covered roads, employers should ensure they are properly trained for driving in such winter conditions and are licensed (as applicable) for the vehicles they drive.

Employers experiencing such weather this time of year should have a winter driving safety policy in place and enforce it. They should also implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate. The end results: Crashes can be avoided.

Winter Driving Safety Policy

A safe winter driving policy is a formal document that defines how a company’s employees should drive personal, company-owned, or rented vehicles to keep themselves and others safe on the road. By adopting and enforcing an effective winter driving safety policy, a company can build a strong safety culture and reduce the risk of accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

All businesses with employees who work in the field should have in force a winter driving safety policy that clearly outlines expectations for safe winter driving and the consequences should employees violate the policy.

The policy should also communicate safe winter driving procedures and what employees should do in the event of an emergency. The company should be sure to also share where employees can receive additional training should they feel inexperienced or unknowledgeable when it comes to driving in snow or ice.

Consider including the following in a winter driving safety policy:

  • Driver qualifications and training requirements
  • Vehicle maintenance and operation rules
  • Safe winter driving practices and behaviors
  • How to report an accident and receive assistance on the road
  • How compliance will be monitored or evaluated
  • Consequences of non-compliance (and incentives for compliance).

Winter Vehicle Check

Employers should make it policy that properly trained workers inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:

  • Brakes: Test brakes are providing even and balanced braking. Also check that brake fluid is at the proper level.
  • Cooling System: Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
  • Electrical System: Check the ignition system and make sure the battery is fully charged and the connections are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
  • Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
  • Exhaust System: Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
  • Tires: Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check for proper tire inflation.
  • Oil: Check that oil is at proper level.
  • Visibility Systems: Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters (windshield and rear window), and wipers. Install winter windshield wipers.

Cold-Weather Emergency Kit

A winter emergency kit containing the following items is recommended in all company vehicles:

  • Cellphone or two-way radio
  • Windshield ice scraper
  • Snow brush
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Shovel
  • Tow chain
  • Traction aids (bag of sand or cat litter)
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Road maps
  • Blankets and a change of clothes.

Feet First

Both driver and passenger employees should always be prepared for the unexpected when driving in cold weather conditions. If they need to exit the vehicle in icy or snowy conditions, the possibility of injuries is reduced if they are wearing proper footwear. A pair of insulated and water-resistant boots with good rubber treads is a must during and after a winter storm. Keeping a pair of rubber over-shoes with good treads that fit over street shoes is a good idea during the winter months.

Workers should take short steps and walk at a slower pace when they make contact with the roadway or any surface so they can react quickly to a change in traction. And remember to keep the company’s parking lot and walkways clear of snow and ice. Employees can slip just as easily walking from the company’s front door to the company vehicle when walking on an icy or snow-covered walkway.

Stranded in a Vehicle

If a worker is stranded in a vehicle, they should stay in the vehicle. Avoid overexertion since cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a vehicle can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.

Someone stranded should call for emergency assistance if needed, but realize response time may be slow in severe winter weather conditions. Stranded workers should:

  • Notify their supervisor of the situation.
  • Not leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. They may become disoriented and get lost in blowing and drifting snow.
  • Display a trouble sign by hanging a brightly colored cloth on the vehicle’s radio antenna and raising the hood.
  • Turn on the vehicle’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour and run the heat to keep warm.
  • Turn on the vehicle’s dome light when the vehicle is running as an additional signal.
  • Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.

Stranded workers should also watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. To prevent hypothermia, workers should:

  • Do minor exercises to maintain good blood circulation in their body.
  • Clap hands and move their arms and legs occasionally.
  • Try not to stay in one position for too long.
  • Stay awake to be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
  • Use blankets, newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.

Work Zone Traffic Safety

In addition to on-road travel, employees working near roadways need to be particularly careful in winter conditions. Roadside workers being struck by vehicles or mobile equipment results in many work zone fatalities or injuries annually.

Drivers may skid or lose control of their vehicles more easily when driving on snow- and ice-covered roads. It is important to properly set up work zones with traffic controls identifiable by signs, cones, barrels, and barriers to protect workers. Any workers exposed to vehicular traffic should always wear the appropriate high-visibility vest, so they are visible to motorists.

Practice Cold Weather Driving

Even with training and a winter driving policy in place, some workers with driving responsibility might not have a whole lot of experience with cold weather driving. The solution then is to make such workers feel safer and more confident— with routine practice.

During daylight hours, drivers can rehearse maneuvers slowly, like steering into a skid on ice or snow in an empty lot. They should always know what the vehicle brakes will do in a fast braking: stomp on antilock brakes, pump on non-antilock brakes. It is also helpful to practice stopping distances as they are longer on water-covered ice and snow.

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Finally, workers who must drive in winter conditions should make it a best practice to plan their route and allow plenty of time to arrive, check the weather before departing, and leave early if necessary. They should also be familiar with directions to their destination and let others know their route and arrival time.

Road accidents certainly occur every year during winter weather, but a company prepared with a winter driving safety policy will be prepared whenever the snow and ice inevitably arrive.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.