With hundreds of drivers stranded, thousands of cars damaged and millions of pounds of man-hours lost due to the recent snow, BusinessCar looks at the way in which fleet managers can better cope next time. Tristan Young investigates

When it snowed at the end of last year and then again in January the UK ground to a halt, and that meant UK businesses also ground to a halt – all because vehicles couldn’t get around the country.

Given that the majority of the travel on Britain’s roads is linked to business it’s surprising that while there’s plenty of advice for how to drive in the snow, there’s little advice available for fleets who are often left to pull together hastily a plan for dealing with adverse weather conditions.

Planning is the key. If, when you see a forecast that predicts snow, you can just pull a file from your computer on how to deal with these conditions then your life becomes stress free and your business runs more smoothly.

For smaller businesses it’s often easier than for larger fleets because a common sense and home-working plan can be more easily put into place.

Rebecca Scully, managing director (and also fleet manager) of public relations agency Smarts, has 20 grey-fleet drivers.

“We used our common sense. Fortunately we’re all equipped for home working and there’s a strong work ethic, so it is possible,” she says.

“When the last snow was forecast we checked that everyone’s equipment was okay for home working. Then when it started to arrive we shut the office and sent everyone home. We were back up and running within an hour.”

However, Scully added that she’d learnt this from previous experience of staff wasting hours trying to move either to or from work because they’d not acted swiftly enough.

“We then left it to staff to decide when it was safe to come back in,” she continues “People had to call in before 8am to say if they were working from home or coming to the office, so that we knew where everyone was and could inform customers.

“No one got stuck and we wouldn’t do anything different next time.”

But this approach wouldn’t work for larger businesses that need to monitor workers and for those companies that deliver goods and services. For these fleets a more detailed plan is required.

Simon Elstow, head of training at IAM Fleet and sister company Drive & Survive, has these recommendations: “There is a strategic bit, which is all about

‘what does the policy say’. So, for example, is there something saying, from higher up the management chain than the fleet manager, ‘you must drive’, which contradicts what the fleet manager’s instructions are in the circumstances. There can be a conflict there.

“Journey management is important, too. There’s fatigue, and people crash because they’re distracted, either because they’re on the phone or they’re tired.

“The best policies should tell drivers to take breaks regularly and tell people what ‘regularly’ is and where to find more information.”