Winter weather is has much of the country in a chokehold, and with it are hazardous driving conditions. Snow, ice, wind gusts, and freezing temperatures, even routine lanes have the potential to become deadly. Keep safe this winter with these 10 winter truck driving tips from Roadmaster.
1) Be prepared
Winter weather can be unpredictable. Live by the Boy Scout motto and always be prepared. Even if the forecast looks safe as you start your trip, taking extra safety steps can save you quite a bit of trouble if a storm comes to surprise you.
Always pack warm winter clothing; gloves, rain gear, and a warm coat. You must also never forget the emergency essentials; a flashlight, blanket, extra food and water, a bag of sand, cat litter (for traction), extra windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, traction mats or tire chains, and a windshield scraper. Most motor carriers advise their drivers to keep their tanks at least half full at all times as a precaution.
2) Don’t skimp over your pre-trip inspection
All drivers should go through an extensive pre-trip inspection before starting their trip, and this is essential for truck drivers in the winter. Be sure to conduct a hands-on inspection and check all the essentials, including lights, fluids, wiper blades and tires. When the temperature is cooler, it’s important to check your rig more often than you might during warmer seasons.
3) Keep your distance
Tailgating is an obvious red flag and an accident waiting to happy. In snowy and wet conditions, however, it’s even more serious. Keep enough distance to ensure you can move out of harm’s way in the event of an accident or other hazard ahead of you.
4) You’re not a NASCAR driver
You’re not Ricky Bobby. And although your truck may be governed at a speed that you don’t consider to be “fast”, it can still be too fast depending on road conditions. Always remember that you’re hauling a massive death machine. If you’re working for a company that expects you to drive faster than the conditions allow, you need to find a new company. Driving a bit more slowly will ensure that you’ve got the time to change course if anything happens in front of you. You’re much more likely to hydroplane or lose control when traveling at a higher speed.
5) Get a grip
Both hands on the wheel. If you’re changing radio stations or fiddling with anything in your cab, you’re presenting a great risk of accident. One hand on the wheel makes it much easier for one quick slip or jerk of the hand to turn into a tailspin.
6) Brake and accelerate gently
ABS systems are great features if your rig is equipped with them. Press the brake down as far as possible in case of emergency. The ABS will prevent the wheels from locking, enabling you to circumvent obstacles. If you don’t have ABS, pump your brakes lightly in the event you need to slow down quickly or are driving on a slippery road. This will reduce the chance of your tires locking and slipping out of control.
7) Look out for black ice
Black ice is one of the trickiest winter weather hazards as you may not notice it until it’s too late. This thin layer of ice forms when the temperature is near freezing. It will make the road appear wet. It will not appear icy. Never assume that a sun-filled day will mean that all of the black ice is gone. Often temperatures are lower with a lack of cloud coverage. One clue signaling black ice may be present is ice build-up on the vehicle’s mirror arms, antennas or the top corners of the windshield. You can also safely assume black ice is on the road if the spray from tires or vehicles in front of you is not present.
8) Be careful on those mountains
Anyone that drives over mountain passes has noticed that they are another breed of dangerous. Be mindful of high wind gusts, snow plows, and emergency vehicles. If possible, avoid stopping in avalanche zones. You’ll also need to be ready to chain up your tires if necessary.
9) Be cautious approaching bridges
Elevated structures are the first to freeze. Many are not treated with melting materials, like salt or sand. Black ice is constantly present on bridges and can quickly cause a multi-car pile-up if every driver isn’t on full alert.
10) If stranded, stay in the vehicle
In 2018, a new driver in Oregon got lost many miles up a dirt road. He got out and walked for days back to the road that he was supposed to be on. Stories like that may tempt you to get out and walk to civilization. Never, ever do that. If you’re on the route that you’re supposed to be on, you will be found. Leaving your vehicle can lead to getting more lost, falling down a ravine, or worse. Get as many layers on and walk around the truck to stay warm. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only run your engine for 10-15 minutes each hour until help arrives.
11) Obey the signs
Signs are not placed on the road just to be a pain. If a sign posts that you may only go 45 MPH around a corner, it’s because they have tested that as the maximum speed to safely navigate. Don’t assume that you’re smarter than the signs.
12) Don’t be afraid to get off the road
No load is worth your life over. Use your best judgment, communicate with your dispatch team, and always choose safety first. It’s better for a load to be late than to never arrive at all.