Winter raises new concerns for driver safety

Seasonal weather changes often have a profound impact on both the safety and efficiency of fleet management operations. Additionally, changing driver behavior trends may further increase the risk of accidents on U.S. highways during winter months. Businesses in a variety of industries have opportunities to keep better track of ongoing delivery operations by investing in advanced routing software programs and thereby limiting any chance of collisions in the future.

Winter can be a challenging season for organizations that rely heavily on ground transportation to ship products across the country. According to The Spencer Daily Reporter, a newspaper published in Spencer, Iowa, excessive snowfall, icy roadways and limited visibility conditions require drivers on local roads and highways to be much more cautious than usual. Heavy-duty trucks are often more prone to dangers, as these vehicles require more space and time to make stops at high speeds.

"People need to have a winter attitude when driving," Bob Younie, state maintenance engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT), told the Daily Reporter. "That means driving more defensively."

Drivers in South Dakota and Wyoming have already experienced the effects of a major blizzard this season. A report from NPR said the region's first heavy snowfall in early October resulted in many highway and interstate closures. In fact, state troopers in Wyoming attended to several accidents as a result of poor road conditions during the storm.

Impacts on fleet management operations
Similar events may become more common in future years as global climate change increases the prevalence of severe weather. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has initiated a variety of research projects exploring the ways in which existing infrastructure may cause organizational chaos during storms. According to a recent report on highway systems in the Gulf Coast region, hurricanes and rainfall as a result of climate change will likely have a major impact on transportation operations in the area's vibrant oil and gas industries.

With advanced routing software, fleet owners can incorporate more robust weather data into the delivery management process, thereby limiting the negative effects of infrastructure complications. For instance, the ability to track vehicle activity in real time enables managers to adjust routes as needed and avoid the risk of delivering products to consumers later than scheduled.

The need for better driver safety
Further exacerbating the transportation problems created by severe weather is the fact that Americans are getting used to unsafe driving tactics while on the road. According to USA Today, the insurance company State Farm recently completed a study exploring Web browsing activity among adults while operating vehicles. Compared to data compiled in 2009, the percentage of drivers who actively use their cell phones to surf the Web while driving this year has increased 11 percent. In the past, teenagers and young adults were the ones most likely to use their cellphones while driving. However, in recent years, such habits have spread to nearly all age groups. USA Today cited data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that said the risk of collisions is 23 times greater when people send text messages while driving as opposed to when they leave their mobile phones alone. The growing popularity of smartphones has created unique risks for fleet managers who must consistently deliver products long distances without damaging vehicles or threatening driver safety. Distracted driving can become especially dangerous in the presence of severe weather or adverse road conditions.

The role of routing software
Fleet managers have the opportunity to leverage advanced technology to increase safety and ensure maximum efficiency of shipping operations. For example, direct route software enables businesses to incorporate real-time vehicle tracking into the delivery process, meaning both drivers and managers will be more engaged during trips. Similarly, the ability to provide vehicle operators with street-level, turn-by-turn directions will likely have a positive impact on road safety. In the event of severe weather, these tools also make it easier for managers to keep track of potentially stranded vehicles and come up with alternative plans to ensure products are still delivered as quickly as possible. With the right technology, managers can have better control over otherwise uncontrollable external factors.