"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip slide away."
Paul Simon sang it in 1977 (there I go dating myself again) and it's still happening every winter. But with some simple techniques and a bit of practise you can eliminate that 'slip sliding away'.
Traction is the main element to consider when driving in winter conditions and when you have lost traction you are slip sliding. It doesn't matter what the road surface is or what the conditions are; there is a finite amount of grip or traction between the tires of your vehicle and that road.
Once you exceed the available traction and your vehicle is no longer responding to your commands to steer, brake or accelerate, you are no longer in control. Your final destination is now in the hand of Newton-Sir Isaac Newton, that is. Vehicle control is about physics and we learned all that we really need to know about it in high school (grade 9 physics if I recall that far back).
Learning skills to observe these laws can take a bit of practise, but no amount of skill or luck will let you dodge them. Ignore Newton at your peril.
Newton's first law says that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by another force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. This law is often call 'the law of inertia'.
In driving, if your vehicle is not moving, it doesn't want to move unless acted on by another force. Once your vehicle is moving, it wants to stay moving in the same direction as it is going unless acted upon by other forces.
You exert force to change the speed or direction by altering the speed or path of the tires and as they grip the road, your direction or speed changes; but only if you have maintained traction and they are not skidding.
Abrupt steering, braking or acceleration exerts excessive forces that may exceed the available traction and initiate a skid or spin. That's why controlling with finesse is critical to winter safety. Do everything as smoothly and as gently as you can to keep the vehicle balanced and maintain the tires' grip with the road.
Here are some techniques to try:
- Leave yourself extra space and begin to brake early when you know that you may have to slow or stop. The longer distance that you use to slow, the less traction that you need to stay in control.
- Keep your speed lower than usual on corners and avoid sliding sideways.
- Squeeze and ease the brake and accelerator. Start gently, and gradually increase pressure to minimize the weight shift of the vehicle on braking or acceleration and reduce the chances of traction loss.
- Avoid abrupt steering and use 'total control steering'. Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock position on the steering wheel and 'shuffle' or 'push and pull' the steering wheel to the left or right. This will help you make directional changes more progressively and maintain your traction.
- Traction is improved when you have good winter tires and enough weight in the vehicle. Drivers with empty rear wheel drive pickup trucks could consider adding weight when conditions are slippery.
- Look well ahead in slippery conditions to plan when you may need to slow or stop. Avoid coming to a complete stop when possible and legal, particularly on hills where more traction is needed to get moving than is needed to keep moving. If you stop on a hill, it's much more difficult to get going.
- Read the road surface and try to drive where there is better traction and minimal ice.
- If you do find yourself sliding away and using your anti-lock brakes, use them correctly. If you feel or hear your anti-lock brakes activating, remember, the right reaction is to push the brake pedal down hard and look and steer where you want to go. Don't let up on the pedal until you are either back under control or stopped. The anti-lock brakes are designed to keep your wheels from locking up and allow you to steer out of danger.
Practise these techniques and you may find yourself singing Randy Bachman instead of Paul Simon and instead of 'Slip Sliding Away', you will be safely 'Rollin' Down the Highway'.
Written By: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver
About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.
When I was young, we had a rotary telephone on the kitchen counter (for those of you under 40, you may have seen one of these babies in a museum!). When someone wanted to get in touch, they called and the phone rang. If no one was home, the caller eventually gave up because there was nothing called an answering machine then. Those came later with those tiny little cassette tapes. If no one was home to answer the phone, you were disappointed, but simply called back. In the intervening years (you can guess how many) we have seen the aforementioned answering machine which morphed into voice mail, fax machines that sent documents over the phone line, email and cell phones and text messaging. Smart phones with games and web browsers, text messaging and email access are the norm now for most of us and we are addicted.
We are addicted to being connected and as with most other addictions, its killing us.
Few people would argue that they can text and drive safely, and most now accept that handheld cell phones are equally dangerous while many will continue to argue that hands-free calling is safe because it does not involve manipulating the phone while driving. All the research is contrary to this as the distraction is not principally as a result of using your hands; it's the cognitive distraction that results from processing the conversation while simultaneously attempting to attend to the driving task.
GPS, mobile music players, radios, and any other activity that pulls your attention from driving is a distraction as are the ongoing challenges of children and pets as well as other passengers.
Auto makers are now including technology that will allow drivers to interface with the web, text messaging and email as well into new vehicles which causes me great concern. While they assure us that they will recommend that this technology is used in a responsible way while not driving, the seductive lure of instant information is, I fear, too great for many to resist.
How many of you have heard the tone of a text, email, voicemail or the ringer of your phone while driving and responded with "just a quick peek"? I'm guilty, and I feel guilty because I'm supposed to be a safety professional. I know the risks, laws and penalties and I have had that 'quick peek'.
So I guess I'm addicted too. I recognized my addiction slowly as I came out of denial and at first tried (as many others addicted to alcohol or drugs will) to control my compulsion to use my device constantly, even while driving and I was somewhat successful but the temptation was great; particularly if I was expecting a call or waiting for a text or email. I tried to be a good boy and pull over to answer my phone and only check text messages at traffic lights. This created a whole new set of distraction issues as I looked for a quick, easy, safe spot to pull over where often there was none and recognized early that taking my eyes off an intersection while waiting for the green was just as dangerous (and illegal) as texting while moving.
Cold turkey was the only real solution. Now I turn off the phone or switch it too silent when I get in the vehicle. Problem solved. I can check when I have reached my destination or plan a stop to deal with business along the way.
Recently, I had the good fortune to travel in Europe where my mobile phone didn't work, and even spent a week on a boat where there was no internet connection either. The world didn't end, my business continued to operate under the guidance of my staff, and I detoxed from the addiction. I recognized that I can indeed turn back the clock to when someone called and I didn't answer; they would just have to wait, as would I until I was able to connect safely. It was kinda nice, totally out of contact. Weird, but nice.
Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver
Good training is a key element, but only part of the puzzle for vehicle safety!
Employers with vehicle fleet or employees who drive are aware (or should be) that the greatest probability of an injury incident is going to be vehicle or driving related. Many organizations have, therefore, incorporated driver training into their OHS program. This is as it should be.
Unfortunately, in many cases, this is where vehicle safety stops.
Training is too often expected to become 'the answer' to vehicle reduction. A driver involved in an incident, for example, is automatically sent back to re-attend the training program where he/she would almost always pass with flying colours, seemingly without effort. Lack of skill is clearly not the problem here.
In this situation, is retaining really the answer or are there other forces at play? Could this be a motivational problem, an attitudinal issue, maybe a medical condition? Was the vehicle appropriate for the work and equipped correctly? Training alone can't address all these issues.
A driver training program labouring under the expectation that it should solve all of an organization's driver safety or incident problems is destined to fall short.
Training is undertaken for a variety of reasons:
- to train and qualify new operators,
- to provide refresher or upgrade training/education,
- to reinforce previously learned skills,
- to re-qualify experienced operators.
But there are many more elements to an effective vehicle safety program.
How does yours stack up? Compare the features of your vehicle/driver safety program with this list of critical key elements:
1. Senior Management Commitment
Is driver safety seen and acted on by senior management as a critical safety issue? Frequently we see lip service paid to driver safety, with strong statements of corporate commitment but an absence of meaningful action. In many cases, senior executives are visibly absent in the training courses associated with the program and have a belief that they are somehow exempt from vehicle safety policies, like pre-trip inspection and circle checks.
Enlightened organizations implement driver safety programs by starting with attendance and qualification on course from executives very early in the process. These managers lead by example, by committing to the program and adhering to policy (like cell phone prohibition, backing in to park, circle checks). Workers need to both hear about safety from management and also see management participating and in compliance.
2. Written Policies and Procedures
Vehicle safety policy and practise should be identified and detailed in its own section in your health and safety manual.
The policy should state the company's expectation of employees who drive, as well as specific policy related to job tasks involving vehicle use or movement - on or off-road. In addition, the policy should state qualifications for use of various vehicle types or classes and the training testing required to achieve these qualifications.
Consequences for non-compliance (if different from the corporate disciplinary system) should be stated clearly.
3. Driver Abstract / Record Checks
Check the driver records of all prospective employees who will be driving for work purposes. Screen out applicants who have poor driving records since they are most likely to cause problems in the future. The driving record should be reviewed annually to ensure that the employee maintains a good driving record, and action should be taken if the record deteriorates.
Clearly define the number of violations an employee/driver can have before losing the privilege of driving for work, and provide training where needed.
4. Incident Reporting and Investigation
All vehicle incidents should be reported and investigated. Acquire the services of an experienced trainer or vehicle operation expert if one is not available in-house.
Root causes should be identified and action items (if applicable) developed to help prevent future incidents.
5. Vehicle Selection, Maintenance and Inspection
Selecting, properly maintaining and routinely inspecting company vehicles is an important part of preventing crashes related losses. Ensure the vehicle selected for a particular application is suited and properly equipped to permit safe use in that application and environment.
A pre-trip/shift inspection routine should be incorporated into the vehicle safety policy, and vehicles should be inspected daily by the driver.
Regular maintenance should be done at specific mileage intervals consistent with the manufacturer's recommendations. A mechanic should do a thorough inspection of each vehicle at least annually.
6. Disciplinary System
Develop a strategy to determine the course of action after the occurrence of a moving violation, policy breach, complaint and/or preventable incident.
There are a variety of corrective action programs available; the majority of these are based on a system that assigns points for infraction and/or incidents. The system should provide for progressive discipline if an employee begins to develop a pattern of repeated problems.
7. Reward / Incentive Program
Safe driving behaviours contribute directly to the bottom-line and should be recognized as such. Positive results are realized when driving performance is incorporated into the overall evaluation of job performance.
Reward and incentive programs typically involve recognition, monetary rewards, special privileges or the use of other incentives.
8. Driver Training / Communications
The training program should be an integral part of the OHS program and be ongoing.
Conduct initial training and qualification for new hires; even those with clean driving records may have never experienced professional training and only passed a basic government driving exam (perhaps many years ago). To set a baseline for driver performance and to document competence in case of future problems, employees should be trained, evaluated and qualified on the vehicle type(s) they will be assigned to, in the environment they will be operating in.
Regular refresher/requalification should be an integral part of the program.
The best programs incorporate a driver safety related course, seminar or event annually to keep vehicle safety at the forefront of employees' minds and demonstrate the corporate commitment to safety.
Every two to three years, requalification by on-road evaluation should be conducted.
Keeping vehicle incident rated low goes beyond just providing training, it includes a comprehensive system of the key elements discussed in this article.
How does your organization measure up?
Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver