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Council / SIC keen to get to bottom of concerns over cars’ suitability for winter weather

Infrastructure director John Smith says the safety of staff is “critically important”

THE COUNCIL is to seek feedback from employees who use its fleet of shared vehicles after concerns were raised that some cars were not “up to scratch” for driving in the recent period of cold weather, with the state of tyres a particular worry.

The issue was brought up by Shetland West member Catherine Hughson at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee earlier this week.

She claimed the problem was particularly pertinent for those using shared pool cars working out of hours delivering critical services.

Catherine HughsonSIC councillor Catherine Hughson.

Hughson sought reassurance that there was a maintenance programme in place that would cover the condition of the vehicles.

Environment and estate operations manager Carl Symons told Shetland News that other than a few instances, he was “genuinely unaware of any major serviceability or availability issues across the fleet, which has sat at 99 per cent plus availability for some time”.

“However, given the health and safety concerns raised by members we’re keen to bottom this one out and learn from it, albeit recent weather conditions which saw an extended period of sub-zero conditions are somewhat unusual.”

Symons said the entire fleet of Toyota Aygo pool cars are less than five years old, with the majority less than two years old.

It was confirmed in 2019 that the council was providing a pool of Aygo cars for care workers to use, with a hope that it would save money on high mileage payments to staff who drive their own vehicles on the job.

“Similar to the majority of the council’s vehicle fleet, all Aygos are currently fitted with all weather tyres from the outset,” Symons continued.

“There were a few issues between Christmas and New Year involving vehicles that reportedly skidded on ice, giving the drivers something of a gluff.

“Investigations revealed it was around 10.30pm and the roads were exceptionally icy – the type of tyre or a 4×4 drive train would have made very little difference in what were exceptionally dangerous road conditions, compounded by the fact that there was less road traffic which meant the grit wasn’t as effective, if at all.”

Depending on the feedback from fleet users, options which could be explored include fitting winter tyres as standard, or holding a stock of rims and winter tyres which can be swapped if needed.

“At face value this all seems straightforward, but complicating factors to this are that in wet weather all-weather tyres stop shorter than standard summer tyres, while in similar conditions dedicated winter tyres will stop shorter than the standard summer tyres but don’t perform as well as the all-weather tyres,” Symons explained.

“On the other hand, all-weather tyres’ treads are not quite as deep as winter tyres, which reduces their stopping power and traction on icy roads.

“So it’s a question of getting the balance right to suit the prevailing conditions we face in Shetland and we don’t want to solve one problem to create another. To my mind the prevailing condition would be wet weather but we’ll see what our users think.”

During Tuesday’s meeting infrastructure director John Smith noted that the vehicles in question are “commuter cars rather than SUVs or designed for challenging weather circumstances”.

Smith continued: “We have to see whether there is something we can learn out of that.”

He stressed that the safety of staff was “critically important”, but warned that any vast changes would come at a cost.

“It’s striking the right balance between best value and cost effectiveness and safety and continuing to deliver critical services,” Smith said.

Hughson responded by saying that the “health and safety of our staff should be a priority” – especially for those working during unsocial hours.

She said that cost should “not really come into it”.

Smith said he agreed entirely, saying it was “absolutely right that the safety of everybody is first on the list”.

He also said that staff are not forced into driving if they feel unsafe due to weather conditions or if there are any problems with their vehicle.