Fighting Old Man Winter

Wayne Blanchard
Posted on January 1, 2006

Vehicle breakdowns are more likely to happen during extreme conditions. When they happen during summer they are a nuisance, but in winter, they can be dangerous. According to the National Weather Service, approximately 70% of all deaths attributed to ice and snow occur in vehicles. To ensure the safety of your clients and chauffeurs, you need to inspect and winterize your vehicles before the cold weather hits, checking these areas:


Tires. Proper inflation and good tread will ensure better traction during winter driving. Look between tire treads for wear bar level. If the wear bars are even with the driving surface of the tires, the tires need to be replaced.


Antifreeze. Test your antifreeze to be sure it is good. If it doesn’t test to at least 40ºF, then it needs to be changed.


Heater and defrosters. These need to be working not only for convenience, but also for safety.


Battery and charging system. Extreme cold makes your vehicle more difficult to start. You need to test both to ensure maximum performance.


Windshield washer fluid and wipers. Snow can provide intense glare from both sun and headlights. A clean windshield can help reduce glare and improve visibility.


Lights. All lights and signals should always be working.


Exhaust system. This is often overlooked as a safety hazard. Any leaks in your exhaust system will release deadly carbon monoxide. If snow builds up around your vehicle, leaks will cause the carbon monoxide to seep into the passenger compartment.


Brakes. Improperly adjusted or worn brakes can lock up, causing your car to skid.


Oil. It is important to use a thinner or cold-weather grade of oil in your vehicle. In severe cold, thicker oils can turn into gel, making it difficult for your car to start and lubricate properly


Belts and hoses. Always replace any worn or leaking hoses and cracked or worn belts.


Awareness Creates Safety

When winter approaches, drivers should be educated on the dangerous road conditions. Brent Ferguson, owner of Brentwood Livery in Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario, suggests regular meetings. “Above and beyond everything else, safety is all about awareness. To keep your drivers aware of the hazards of winter driving, it is important to discuss safety and all of the dangers.”


Ferguson also recommends explaining to drivers what situations make it unsafe to remain on the road. The radio or TV is a good source of information for road closings, accidents, event cancellations and more. Keep a local station or a weather emergency channel tuned for the latest bulletins.


Slippery When Wet or Frozen

Icy conditions are extremely dangerous and can end your trip fast. “It doesn’t matter what kind of tires you have on your car,” says Rick Goondall, owner of City Sedans and Limousines in Great Neck, N.Y., “when you hit ice, you have no traction. If you are not careful, you are going to slide. You need to do your best to recognize and compensate for icy roads.” Goondall recommends avoiding sharp corners when possible. If there is more than one route to a destination, take the one with fewer corners. Remember, the sharper the turn, the more inertia you will build up, which means the greater the likelihood of a skid.


Also, watch for shaded areas because they are notorious for hiding icy patches. Even though the rest of the road may be clear, shaded areas may have slick spots.


Use more care on bridges and overpasses. They tend to freeze before the rest of the roadway because they have cold air both above and below, rather than having the ground to insulate them.


Use extreme caution when approaching intersections. No matter who has the designated stop, you should be prepared to stop if necessary. Other drivers entering the intersection may not be able to stop and you need to be able to react.


If you start to slide, stay away from the brake pedal. Hitting the brake will only lock up your wheels and give more momentum to the skid. Turn your wheels slightly into the direction of the skid and gently touch the accelerator. Once the vehicle responds, slowly straighten out the wheel and let off the gas.


Train Your Personnel

Your chauffeurs should be trained for every scenario. A properly trained driver tends to react faster and more calmly than most other drivers on the road.


Barbara Curtis, owner of Two Step Limousine in Littleton, Colo., trains her drivers to be “the most defensive drivers on the road.” They are taken to frozen parking lots and trained to handle the vehicles in a skid situation. They are also trained to reduce speed by using a lower gear rather than using their brakes.


It is also important for all personnel to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia, which can be caused by prolonged breathing of severely cold air. Hypothermia can be life-threatening and can lead to kidney, liver and pancreas problems. According to the National Weather Service, symptoms may include:

§         Uncontrollable shivering

§         Drowsiness

§         Slow or slurred speech

§         Memory lapses

§         Coordination problems

§         Physical exhaustion


To help treat hypothermia, the National Weather Service recommends:

§         Get the victim into dry clothing as quickly as possible. Wrap the victim in warm blankets and be sure to cover the head and neck.

§         Warm the person slowly beginning with the body core. If necessary, use your own body heat to warm the victim.

§         Avoid hot liquids as these could cause shock to the victim.


Sometimes while drivers are out on a job, a storm can brew unexpectedly. Conditions can deteriorate quickly, turning a pleasant evening behind the wheel into a nerve-wracking drive.


Drivers should know where the hotels and inns are in the area they will be working. If conditions get too bad, the driver can park the limousine in the parking lot and stay in a room until it is safe to travel on the road.


Don’t be afraid to tell clients that it’s time to go. Even if they don’t want to leave, you are the driver, so it’s your call. Clients may not be happy, but at least they will be safe.


A Winter Kit Helps Beat the Cold

Having the right supplies are vital in any emergency situation. A winter survival kit is easy to prepare and important to have. Here are the essentials:

§         Ice scraper and snowbrush

§         Blankets or sleeping bags

§         Waterproof boots and gloves

§         An extra set of dry clothing, including socks and a wool cap

§         Several bottles of water

§         Snack food. Peanut butter crackers or sports nutrition bars are a great source of energy.

§         A small folding snow shovel

§         Several candles in glass or metal containers. These are a great source of heat.

§         Lighter or matches

§         Tool kit, including jumper cables, flares, reflectors and a hammer

§         Bag of sand, non-clumping kitty litter or traction mats

§         Cell phone

§         A long magnet-base antenna with a large orange flag attached for visibility

§         Flashlight with extra batteries

§         First-aid kit

§         Scarf to breathe through to prevent hypothermia

§         15 feet or more of small-diameter dryer-vent hose and a clamp



Related Topics: chauffeur training, driver safety, emergency preparedness, maintenance, passenger safety, preventing breakdowns, vehicle safety

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