Question: Should we consider any special driving precautions for employees in winter during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic compared to a “normal” winter season?
Answer: Yes, this is an entirely new frontier of change, challenges, and struggle for many of us, and preparing for winter driving conditions may require a little more creativity. First and foremost, ensure drivers stay healthy and follow all the CDC guidelines as well as your local public health authorities on physical distancing, face coverings, and sanitation to prevent getting sick. Secondly, refer to Vigilant’s past newsletter articles on preventing cold stress and ensuring your work vehicles are ready for a cold driving adventure. And don’t forget common safety items to have in your vehicle in the winter that you may not have in the summer.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, employers are more likely to be driving alone rather than carpooling with friends or co-workers. This means they may not have assistance if they get stuck due to snow or ice. If they’re driving work vehicles in areas out of cell range, ensure you provide reliable communication tools such as a satellite phone. In normal times, long-distance drivers might be able to share the ride, so they could trade off when sleepy or at least have some conversation to stay alert and focused on the road. Driving alone can be tedious for long periods or in the monotony of heavy traffic. This may increase the risk of drivers reaching for their phone instead of staying focused on the road. Remember, all phone calls and texts should be made or received using hands-free controls. Better yet, have your drivers set their phones in silent mode while behind the wheel.
You should recommend that drivers plan ahead for scheduled breaks, since it may not be possible to stop for a quick snack or restroom break at their favorite restaurant anymore. These places may be closed or not allow the public to use their restroom. This may limit breaks to sparsely placed highway rest areas. Drivers should be cognizant of their fluid intake and map out how many stops they need to make along the way.
Encourage drivers to exercise patience and grace for other motorists who may have a lot on their mind related to the pandemic. Other drivers are more likely to be distracted and therefore driving too fast, reacting unsafely, making lane changes incorrectly, merging at the wrong time, and engaging in other unsafe actions on the road. Remind your employees not to let these behaviors influence their own driving. Relaxation techniques may help them get through the situation.
Follow these steps to help drivers stay alert and prepared while driving during the winter, in a pandemic or not. And if you have any questions, contact your Vigilant safety professional.