Be prepared, drive for conditions, stay safe this winter

Get a Grip this Winter poster was produced for winter drive safety campaign.

Taking time to take precautions such as cleaning windshield and headlights; checking tires, brakes and fluids; along with slowing down and driving for the road and weather conditions, will help Team Mildenhall members and their families stay safe this winter. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Gary Rogers)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Scraping ice of the windscreen before the journey into work is becoming a regular occurrence, and as the weather turns colder and roads get icier, safety is even more paramount.

“The recent time change means for most people it’s dark when they come into work and then again when they leave,” said Tech. Sgt. José Martinez, 100th Air Refueling Wing occupational safety manager. “It creates an issue with being able to see, especially when being blinded by the headlights of other vehicles, or when it’s foggy. Another problem is the rain; roads become slippery and when mud also gets all over the road, it makes the conditions more hazardous, because it could cause someone to slide off the road.”

Martinez emphasized that freezing temperatures can cause treacherous conditions including black ice.

“The reason why we see a rise in the number of vehicle mishaps in winter is because of black ice,” he said. “Even though the local councils in the surrounding area do a good job of gritting and salting the main roads, a lot of the ‘A’ and ‘B’ roads stay very slippery because the council vehicles can’t get to them. Those tend to be the ones where people get into mishaps as they just slide off the road, because a lot of people are still driving at the speed limit, rather than slowing down to a safe driving speed.”

From November 2016 to March 2017, Team Mildenhall had 11 vehicle mishaps, with two having ice and rain as the cause. During April to October 2017, when the roads are more clear and dry, there were seven vehicle mishaps.

Martinez said recent studies have shown that in the U.K. as a whole, there was a 22 percent increase in vehicle accidents caused by bad weather such as rain, snow and ice. He added that the majority of these accidents are completely preventable.

“Slow down and drive at a safe speed – just because the national speed limit is posted, doesn’t mean you have to go at 60 or 70 miles per hour. Drive to the conditions of the road and the traffic ahead of you; if you have to go 30 in somewhere that’s a 60 mph limit, that’s perfectly fine – take your time. It’s not a race to get to work or get home, so take precautions and drive safely.”

Black ice is also a hazard which contributes to another safety issue of slips, trips and falls.

“Whether driving or walking, black ice can create a slippery area, so make sure to put salt on the walking paths around the doors of your work center to prevent a build-up of ice; you can even do the same thing at home around your walkway,” Martinez said. “Getting out of the car and slipping on black ice has contributed to the number of safety incidents we’ve seen.”

Winter driving can be even more hazardous for those on two wheels.

“When riding a bicycle or motorcycle, make sure you are wearing a high-visibility vest or something else reflective, along with a helmet, and ensure your lights are working,” Martinez said.

In accordance with the U.K. Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations, it’s illegal to cycle on a public road after dark without lights and reflectors, and bicycles should be fitted with a front lamp (with white light), rear lamp (red light) and reflectors on the pedals.

Being prepared and driving carefully will help ensure Team Mildenhall members and their families stay safe and mission ready.

Tips for winter driving safety in the U.K., specifically in in the local area, include:

• Scrape all ice fully off all windows on the vehicle, including side windows as well as front and rear windscreen. Don’t go for the “tank effect” with just a little peep hole, as it will obscure the driver’s vision.
• Don’t overtake within the 10-mile radius around base per the RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath no-passing policy, or anywhere it is unsafe to do so.
• Make sure headlights are on during inclement weather, or when still dark in the mornings/starting to get dark in the evenings. Only use fog lights when it’s foggy and not for general use.

Vehicle safety:
• Check fluid levels, belts and hoses.
• Ensure heater and defroster are working.
• Check tire pressure and tread.
• Ensure brakes are working properly.
• Test turn signals, brake and headlights, and hazard lights.
• Check windshield wipers and replace if worn.
• Keep emergency kit (including blankets, flashlight, water, energy bars, warning triangles and first aid kit) in the trunk.
• Don’t drink and drive.
• Don’t text and drive.

If stranded on the roadway:
• Stay calm; get your vehicle as far off the road as possible and turn on hazard lights.
• Call or text roadside assistance, or emergency services (999 in the UK); keep windows and doors locked until help arrives.
• Unless help is visible within 100 yards, remain in the vehicle unless it is unsafe to do so.
• Run engine periodically to keep vehicle warm; ensure car exhaust pipe is clear of snow that could block the discharge. Open a window slightly to avoid carbon monoxide build up.

Editor’s note: Air Force Safety Center Public Affairs contributed to this article