Winter is upon us, and with it, weather conditions that can reduce visibility, decrease traction, and test the driving skills and patience of even the best commercial truck drivers. All seasons present weather driving challenges, but winter challenges are typically considered the most dangerous for truckers.
Take a look at these winter-related stats from the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation:
- Annually over 1,300 people die and about 116,800 injured in crashes on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement.
- Every year nearly 900 people are killed and about 76,000 injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet.
As operators of large vehicles that demand greater skid control and maneuvering skills than smaller vehicles, driving in winter weather conditions can be difficult for any big rig driver. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 17% of all vehicle accidents occur during the winter months.
Don’t Be Another Statistic
Truck drivers should always drive with extreme care, but drivers need to be extra careful with accidents more common in winter and drive with a heightened skill level to help reduce accident risk. By following essential winter driving tips that promote driver safety, drivers not only reduce accident risk, but they also help complete their routes safely, efficiently, and promptly.
Here’s a “Top Ten”:
1. Prepare Your Vehicle
Preparing your truck for winter is key to preventing problems on the road. Before heading out, check the following:
- Tires — As the temperature drops, the air pressure in tires drops, so check tires for proper inflation.
- Brakes — If there is a squeaking noise or the truck does not stop immediately, a mechanic should check the brake pads or brake linings.
- Fluids — Ensure all fluids are at the correct levels, including coolant, oil, transmission fluid, and brake fluids.
- Lights — Clean all lights and make sure they are working correctly.
- Windshield Wipers — Check that wiper blades are not brittle and wiping correctly. Check the washer fluid level and make sure it is formulated not to freeze.
2. Protect Yourself
Dress appropriately for the weather with proper shoes, socks, a heavy jacket, gloves, and a hat. Additionally, have these items with you:
- Non-perishable food
- A power source
- First aid kit
- Tire chains
- Cat litter/sidewalk salt
- Flashlight and batteries
- Windshield scraper
- Jumper cables
- A hammer and a putty knife (to unfreeze brakes)
3. Slow Down
If you don’t adjust your speed for the weather conditions, you are putting yourself and others in danger. Slow down on the snow and ice-covered roads for greater traction and stay off cruise control. If your wipers are on, cruise control should be off.
4. Allow Extra Space
Stopping distance on an icy road is ten times the average stopping distance. For comparison, on a wet road, it’s two times the distance. Leave plenty of room between your truck and the vehicle in front of you (7-14 seconds or more) and watch for that vehicle’s brake lights.
5. Keep it Smooth and Steady
Sudden braking, accelerating, or cornering can result in an accident. Maintain a constant speed and avoid any action that reduces traction. If you must slow down suddenly on a slick road, pump the brakes lightly. Additionally, start braking early for stop signs and red lights. Intersections can be icier than the roads leading to them.
6. Look Out for Tire Spray
Checking the water coming off the vehicle's tires around you is a crucial indicator of road condition. If there’s a lot of water sprayed, the road is wet and isn’t icy. If there’s less spray, proceed with caution as the road has started to freeze.
7. Check Your Lights
In winter conditions, visibility can be low. Make sure your headlights are on and adequately working so other drivers can see you and maintain a safe distance. After each stop, check for snow and ice buildup to ensure your lights are clear.
8. Be Extra Careful
A sharp turn on a slick road could be disastrous, so be extra cautious on the entrance and exit ramps. Be aware of bridges. Their surfaces freeze first and can be more slippery than the roadway. When approaching bridges, on-ramps, or exit ramps on snow or ice covered roads, turn the engine brake off. Allow for wind in large, open areas or when you come out behind a hill, tunnel, or overpass. Be especially cautious with an empty trailer.
9. Pull Over
Your safety is more important than your schedule. If road conditions are too severe, pull off the roadway, find a safe spot, and wait until conditions improve before you get back on the road.
10. Look Twice
It may sound simple, but check twice before proceeding through an intersection. In a blizzard or other severe conditions, compromised visibility can make it challenging to see stop signs or traffic lights.