Driving in winter can sometimes feel a bit of slog, but the longer, lighter days of spring can help improve the working lives of fleet drivers.
But caution is still required as spring brings its own challenges for those on the road.
Transitional weather can mean changeable conditions that can sometimes catch drivers out, so a few basic guidelines can ensure safety.
- Planning is key
Spring is a popular time for roadworks, with many local authorities using up the last of their budgets on maintenance projects.
Then there are public and school holidays to factor in. The upside is that the absence of school run traffic makes the roads clearer in the mornings and late afternoons. But the disadvantage is that families are travelling to visit relatives, going on holidays etc, so the roads are busier during the working day.
All these factors make journey times less predictable than usual, so route planning is even more important.
Fleet managers should impress upon their drivers to check online sources such as the Highways Agency, or route planners from the likes of the AA or RAC, before setting off for meetings, appointments and deliveries.
Drivers in vehicles fitted with real-time traffic information can also make use of the continuous updates. Traffic alerts on radio stations also provide useful updates that can make drivers aware of delays.
- Off-peak travel
It’s not always possible for fleet drivers to travel at quieter periods on the road, but if it is, take the opportunity to do so. It’s also worth bearing in mind that during three or four weeks in spring, when schools are on holiday, these quieter periods could be times that are usually busier, and vice versa.
- It’s not summer yet
The first appearances of the sun can lull drivers into thinking the warm weather has arrived. That might be the case later in the day, but early mornings could still catch them out.
The odd frosty morning – especially after a cloudless night – can lead to slippery patches of road. Drivers need to take particular caution around bridges, where cold air passes underneath, making the road surface more prone to frost and ice.
Other potentially dangerous areas are tree-lined roads, because the sun doesn’t shine directly on the road surface, so it doesn’t dry out or thaw as quickly, affecting stopping distances. This is a particular hazard in rural areas, where temperatures are generally lower, so drivers need to take extra caution.
- Blossoming dangers
The first buds of spring are always a welcome sign, but they can also mask additional hazards.
New growth and thicker foliage on trees can sometimes obscure road signs. Signs that inform of a change in speed limit, warnings of pedestrians crossing ahead or essential direction signs can easily be missed if tree or hedgerow branches are not cut back. Advise and encourage your drivers to stay alert and pay particular attention to the road signs.
- A quick trim
Verges can also start to become overgrown in spring and local authorities are often cutting back the grass at this time of year. This can be an additional hazard for drivers, as they could find themselves coming around a bend and unexpectedly encountering roadside workers.
In order to prevent this potentially dangerous surprise, drivers should look for telltale signs such as grass cuttings on the side of the road or the smell of fresh-cut grass.
- Fair-weather traffic
The better weather means there tends to be many more cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians on the roads.
All of these are more vulnerable road users (walkers in country lanes often have to share the road because of the lack of pavements). Drivers need to be aware of their likely presence around bends and corners and to give them all a wide berth.
Cyclists – both of the pedal and petrol kind – have the same rights as other vehicles on most roads and are under no obligation to ride in the gutter. Many cyclists will let you pass when they feel it is safe to do so. Drivers should be particularly careful at junctions and in blind spots when they’re turning or overtaking.
- Don’t be drowsy
Spring is the beginning of hay fever season as tree pollen is released. Hay fever is the most common allergic reaction in the UK, with one in five affected at some point in their lives. Hay fever can be relieved by over-the-counter medication, but some do have side effects such as drowsiness. Research by Confused.com in 2016 found that one in seven drivers didn’t read the leaflet advice before taking medication.
Antihistamines can also interact with other drugs to diminish driving ability, so check the packet – or talk to your doctor to see if they can recommend an alternative product.
- Animal instincts
Hibernating animals such as hedgehogs start to wake in spring and it is breeding season for others. As a result, drivers need to be extra vigilant in rural areas. Try to avoid swerving or braking harshly to avoid animals, drivers are better to hit smaller animals rather than risk their safety and that of other road users by taking evasive action.