A Winter State of Mind
One of the joys of working in the trucking industry is the freedom to travel across the country. You as a truck driver benefit from the unique experience of being able to explore different roads from coast to coast. However, this also means that you must prepare for constant changes in your driving environment, especially throughout the winter months when the roads morph into treacherous terrain across much of the country.
The best thing you can do to stay safe when the temperature drops is to be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Whether you are driving through a busy metropolis or cruising down country roads, there are heightened risks to be aware of in winter. Here are some winter driving tips to keep you and your cargo safe throughout the cold weather.
Practice Proper Vehicle Maintenance
In unfavorable conditions, it is especially important to inspect your vehicle before you get on the road. First, remember that cold weather lowers battery power. Ensure that your battery is in good shape before the cold conditions creep up. For fifth wheel lubrication, make sure you are using a winter-grade product. Using a summer-grade lubricant in low temperatures could be detrimental as it has the potential to cause steering issues. Ensure that there is proper winter coolant in your radiator and that there are no leaks.
Check to make sure the heater, defroster, and windshield wiper blades are all in proper working order. If you have not used these features in over a year, there is no guarantee that they will be functioning properly when you really need them! Most importantly, give your tires a check. Winter roads provide very little traction, so good tread depth is critical. Ensure your tire pressure is in recommended ranges as well.
Be Prepared with Equipment and Supplies
Just as important as vehicle maintenance is having the right gear for severe winter conditions. Some states require trucks to carry chains or cables during certain months. They may even mandate which axle(s) require chaining and the use of specific traction devices. Before setting out, make sure you know the laws in the states that you will be traveling in. You may also want to consider carrying a list of state specific safety requirements for quick reference. For example, if you travel frequently through mountain passes, it would be important to know that chaining is often rigidly enforced. Be informed on how to put your chains or cables on before you need them. Subzero temperatures and snow and ice-covered roads are not the best conditions to learn in!
When it comes to fuel, gelling is the main concern. Follow these pro tips to prevent any instances of gelling:
- Educate yourself on the regulations related to purchasing additives for fuel
- Know if your vehicle has fuel tank heaters
- Keep your tank as full as possible in cold conditions
- Avoid turning the truck off for long periods of time
- Monitor the temperature and wind chill carefully
Beware of fuel purchased in southern states when you are traveling into cold conditions. Weather conditions in the South do not require blended fuel, so fuel purchased there will have a greater tendency to gel.
Winter Supply Kit
Always carry a winter driving kit with you – you never know when one of these items could save your life. Recommended items to stock in your kit include the following:
- Flashlight and batteries
- Extra clothing, such as warm layers, gloves, shoes, socks, and rain gear
- Non-perishable food and water
- First aid kit
- Bag of sand or salt
- Extra washer fluid
- Windshield scraper and brush
- Jumper cables
- Winter tire chains or traction mats
- Cellphone and charger
- Lighter, matches, and candles
Know the Road Conditions
Two things: have a good source for checking the weather reports and a good thermometer. Seriously consider the investment if your truck is not equipped with either of these. Both will be crucial to determining the safest routes and knowing what kinds of road conditions you are dealing with. If you are unable to tell whether the road is icy, take a peek at the temperature. Should the temperature be hovering around freezing (32 degrees F,) watch other vehicles to gauge the conditions. Sliding vehicles, lack of spray from tires, and ice buildup on other vehicles are good indications that the road is frozen. CB antennas that have ice buildup will bounce back and forth rapidly, which is also a good sign that road conditions are dangerous.
React Properly When Things Go Wrong
Whether it is your fault or not, things can – and will – go wrong when driving in snow and dangerous winter weather. The key is to respond quickly and intelligently when precarious situations arise.
If it gets cold enough, the brake lining could freeze to the drum if you set your brakes when they are still wet. To fix this, you will have to break them loose. Either back up so they break free on their own, or hit them with a hammer to loosen them.
If you find yourself skidding, quickly depress the clutch, look at the left mirror only, and steer to get back in line with the trailer. Keep steering and counter-steering until you regain control, but do not over-steer. If possible, avoid braking during this process even if there is an oncoming emergency. There is likely not enough room to stop without a collision, and you could easily make matters worse by slamming on the brake pedals. Avoid skidding altogether by not braking, turning, steering, or accelerating too quickly.
Countless studies show that if you allow the tractor and trailer to be at more than a 15-degree angle to each other, your chances of regaining control are unlikely. However, you should still work to correct the jack-knife as soon as you recognize what is happening. Recover by steering until the trailer and tractor are realigned. If you are experiencing a trailer jack-knife (the wheels of the trailer are locked up as opposed to those of the tractor), you should use the accelerator to pull the trailer back in line. Never use the brakes.
The bottom line in winter driving is to think ahead about safety, be prepared, and know your own limitations. In bad conditions, always increase your following distance and make smooth downshifts. Take extra caution when traveling on ramps, bridges, and overpasses. Keep in mind that while you have control over your own vehicle, the driver next to you may not. Your best bet is to stay as far away from other vehicles as possible. If something does go wrong, don’t panic!
Remember everything you have learned about safe driving and you’ll be able to stay cool, calm, and collected. Use common sense – if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe driving in the given conditions, do not drive. It’s better to deliver your load late than not at all, so use your best judgment!
We hope you’ll stay safe on the snowy roads this winter. Unfortunately, accidents do sometimes occur. Do you have the appropriate coverage? Contact our office today to discuss your trucking insurance needs.