Weather experts believe the UK is on track for weeks of harsh weather that could potentially bring the road network to a standstill.
And in a new move, Met Office officials met with transport bosses recently to warn of weather conditions that are likely to cause chaos over the coming weeks.
Road safety organisation the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it was vital that companies carry out risk assessments on journeys being made by their drivers in preparation for the cold snap.
Occupational safety adviser Roger Bibbings said: ‘Obviously, vital services have to be maintained, but employers need to ask themselves if it is acceptable for their drivers to be on the road in conditions such as thick fog, snow and ice.
‘Would they be able to live with themselves if people died in a road accident which resulted from a journey they had insisted on and yet which was not absolutely necessary?’
Statistics compiled by claims management specialist WNS Assistance show that by the winter of 2003/04 the number of rain or snow-related road accidents had tripled over six years in Britain, reaching 23.4% of all claims compared to 8.7% in 1998/99.
Managing director Tim Rankin said: ‘Fleet decision-makers would do well to caution their company car drivers to take extreme care in what is predicted to be the worst winter for 10 years as our statistical graph predicts a sharp rise in accidents related to winter rain or snow over the next three months.’
But as well as taking care on the roads, drivers should be encouraged to ensure their vehicles do not become easy prey to thieves.
Wendy Rowe, managing director of Retainagroup, a company that marks glass and components with security code numbers, said: ‘If you have the keys, stealing a car is easy, so don’t tempt fate. Leaving the engine running, even on your own drive, is an invitation to thieves.’
The Department for Transport has issued local authorities with an advice note urging them to make ‘suitable preparations’ for a ‘much more severe winter’.
Liz Hollands, fleet manager at real estate adviser DTZ Debenham Tie Leung, who runs 400 cars, said the fleet manager’s role was not that of weather forecaster and drivers should be credited as having common sense.
She said: ‘People should take responsibility for their own lives. We issue drivers with guidance about winter driving and dangers involved but ultimately it’s down to them to decide whether or not to make a journey.’