Driving in Winter Weather Conditions
Hazardous weather conditions are one of the most common threats facing truck drivers on the road. Snow can decrease visibility and ice makes it harder to maintain tire traction. Truckers must also be aware of other vehicles and the unpredictable driving patterns of motorists. In order to practice safe driving during less-than-favorable weather conditions, take precautions to not only be prepared, but to also familiarize yourself with your tractor trailer unit.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, icy pavement caused an annual average of 156,164 crashes, snow/sleet caused 219,942 crashes, snow/slushy pavement caused 186,076 crashes, and wet pavement caused 860,286 crashes based on a ten-year average between 2007 and 2016. Within these crashes, over 5700 persons were killed and over 450,000 were injured. In many areas, winter road conditions are unavoidable, so be vigilant and drive safely.
No one should know your tractor or trailer better than you do. Performing an inspection before you begin your route will help to avoid surprise mishaps. Check the tire pressure, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, antifreeze, engine oil, fuel level, tire tread, lights, brakes, and air tank moisture. If you notice anything unusual about the cab, tractor, or trailer, investigate it further before beginning your trip. An emergency cold-weather kit with equipment such as a flashlight, blanket, snacks, extra warm clothing, batteries, gloves, shovel, matches, traction mats, windshield scrapers, and other harsh-weather items will come in handy in the event you become stuck or stranded. Preparation is key when encountering winter weather.
Although it is often best to follow the speed limit, winter weather and icy conditions could make driving the speed limit dangerous. Slow down when road conditions are unfavorable, and keep your distance from other drivers. The weather may be intimidating, but do not try to rush out of it or you may find yourself in a jack knife skid. If the weather becomes too severe, slow down and pull off somewhere safe, such as at a rest stop. Avoid pulling off onto the shoulder of the road as much as possible. Choose a safer exit if possible as severe weather conditions are also threatening to other drivers and the shoulder could become dangerous.
It does not matter if you are a seasoned veteran of the road or a new driver on his or her first route, driving safely and cautiously during snowy and icy weather conditions is important. Don't be afraid to take additional training on foot brakes or the Jake brake (compression release engine brake) if you are unsure of how to operate each in different weather conditions. However, remember not to use the Jake brake on icy or slick roads as it is not designed for those conditions. In addition, use extreme caution when deciding to use it in snow or slush if necessary; the tractor trailer must be absolutely straight and in-line before engaging the brake. It does not hurt to refresh your mind on the mechanics of your tractor trailer unit before experiencing winter weather.
Safe driving instructions are abundant, but it is ultimately up to you to follow safety recommendations and your best judgement.