Parts of the UK have already enjoyed blistering sun (as well as heavy rain and thunderstorms) in what is becoming increasingly unpredictable and changeable summer weather. However, just like snow and ice, hot weather comes with its own risks for drivers. Here, we discuss three key aspects of driving in summer that fleet managers should be incorporating into their risk assessments.
Safe routes and staycations
Road traffic can increase during the summer as individuals, groups and families head off for their holidays. The rise in popularity of the so-called ‘staycation’ has arguably exacerbated this, as more holidaymakers swap sun, sea, and sand abroad for the charms of the UK’s coasts and countryside.
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), employers need to “plan journeys which are safe for your drivers and riders.” This includes considering “how long drivers and riders will be on the road for, where the work is, schedules, timing and the weather.” They must also “put controls in place to manage any risks.”
In hot weather, risks can include, not just heavier traffic, but also an increase in more vulnerable road users, such as families with young children. Higher temperatures can also lead to drowsiness and reduce driver reaction times.
As the summer season continues and school holidays begin, it is worth refreshing drivers on the fundamentals of safe and defensive driving, particularly when routes go through towns and cities. Higher levels of pedestrians are expected at this time of year, so training should make drivers aware of the need to be alert and to keep to safe speed limits.
Fleet managers would be advised to also keep these risks in mind when planning routes. Motorways are preferable to single-lane roads, although timetables and schedules should still be reviewed and revised where necessary to reflect the increase in traffic and to allow adequate breaks in which drivers can rest and rehydrate.
Open communication between drivers, customers, and fleet managers will support agreed arrival times in being more realistic and prevent drivers from taking unnecessary risks. Companies may also consider installing tachographs and other forms of telemetry to ensure drivers are sticking to legal speed limits and taking adequate breaks.
Flip flops, sandals, and sensible footwear
While there is no law that bans driving either bare foot or in less ‘sensible’ shoes such as flip flops and high heels, Rule 97 of the Highway Code does state that “the footwear and clothing that you choose to wear whilst driving must not prevent you from using the controls in the correct manner.”
In some shoes, it can be difficult to gain adequate purchase on the accelerator or brake pedals. Where shoes slip, this can lead to accidents, particularly where a vehicle fails to stop.
If a driver is subsequently stopped by the police – either due to the way they were driving or following an incident – the police may subjectively determine that the driver’s shoes contributed, or caused them, to drive without due care and attention.
Also known as ‘careless driving’, this can lead to a driver being charged with offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988, carrying with it an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points on one’s licence. Should the matter progress to Court, the maximum penalty could be a £5,000 fine and/ or nine penalty points and a driving disqualification.
Where fleets are concerned, this can negatively impact their reputation. Customers may also go elsewhere if they perceive the fleet’s drivers as unsafe.
While it is important for drivers to be comfortable during hot weather, fleet managers also need to stress the importance of sensible footwear when driving. For drivers carrying passengers or heavier loads, it is worth having in place a policy specifying that only certain types of footwear can be worn when driving, regardless of the weather, and making sure drivers are aware of the consequences – both legal and professional – should they fail to do so.
A fully functional fleet
Blue, sunny skies do not guarantee an end to vehicle performance problems. In fact, the hot weather and summer holidays can have various impacts on a vehicle.
According to the AA, higher temperatures can increase the risk of tyre punctures and blowouts, particularly if tyres are already damaged or at the wrong pressure. Both sun exposure and ambient temperature can affect tyre pressure, making it important that drivers are given the time and training necessary to check tyre pressure before long journeys or after extended rest stops.
The RAC also highlights that busier roads and greater levels of traffic can place additional strain on a vehicle’s clutch, alternator, and battery, particularly if the driver is stopping and starting frequently.
As the HSE states, employers have a responsibility to “make sure any vehicle used for your business is safe and remains safe.” This includes both checking that a vehicle meets the required safety and performance standards before it is used, and ensuring it is regularly maintained.
Again, training drivers on the fundamentals of vehicle maintenance and repair is vital, particularly concerning how to spot potential issues, and how to drive in a manner that prevents more serious problems. It is also important that drivers know to whom they need to address any issues and concerns, and that there is a defined procedure for reporting and resolving any vehicle maintenance issues.
For employers, the consequences of failing to ensure that vehicles are safe to use can be severe, particularly where such failure leads to serious accidents and loss of life. Where an employer or organisation is found to have committed a “gross breach of a relevant duty of care”, they could face prosecution, either for Gross Negligence Manslaughter, or under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
Risk assessments help fleet managers to assess potential issues and define measures through which such issues can be removed, reduced, or mitigated. As a living document, risk assessments must be updated regularly to reflect current legislative guidance and driving conditions, whether the weather outside is frightful, or there isn’t a cloud in the sky.