6 Winter Truck Driving Tips
Owner operators know that winter is a great time to make lots of money. It can also be the most dangerous time of the year for big-rig drivers. The longer the haul or the steeper the terrain, as in certain areas of the central and western United States, the more dangerous it can be. While winter driving can be dangerous in a regular automobile, let alone a vehicle that can weigh up to twenty times what a four-wheeler does, there are some common sense tips and rules that can make driving in extreme conditions safer. Here are six winter driving tips for the over the road driver to help cut down on the risks associated with severe weather driving.
1) Safety Inspections and Walkarounds
While many companies mandate safety inspections for company drivers, particularly OTR drivers, on a daily basis, many veteran drivers overlook this simple and important step. A low tire can cut fuel mileage, and if the low tire is one of the main drive tires, the driver's control can be severely and dangerously compromised. Besides proper tire inflation and possible damage, the driver should also check the fluids (oil, windshield, transmission, and so on), as well as the wipers and brake lines.
2) Radio Traffic
Many drivers have gotten out of the habit of monitoring citizen's band (CB) radio traffic in favor of listening to satellite radio such as Sirius. This practice can be problematic because it prevents drivers from getting crucial early warnings about such things as road closures, hazardous conditions, and traffic accidents. Many drivers have learned the hard way that listening to CB traffic may not be the most interesting thing to do, but it can give vital advance warning of unsafe conditions so drivers can alter their travel plans according to weather and related problems.
3) Snow Tires and Chains
Many states, particularly in mountainous areas such as the portion of the US west of the Rocky Mountains, have areas where snow tires and chains are not just recommended, but mandatory. Failure to observe chain laws can result in expensive fines and blights on drivers' records. It can also create dangerous conditions for the driver, the cargo, and other drivers on the road. Many areas where chains are required feature a combination of steep uphill and downhill grades and valleys where snow, ice, and wind come together to produce hazardous weather conditions. Studded snow tires and chains are designed to add traction and prevent slippage on snowy or icy pavement, as well as making stopping or slowing easier and less dangerous under these conditions.
4) Speed Is Deadly
While the overland shipping industry relies heavily on speed to get vital goods from place to place, the fact is that speed is not always a good thing. During winter storm conditions, high winds and low visibility due to blowing snow can severely impact the stability of a load or the vehicle and prevent the driver from seeing obstacles and hazards on or near the roadway. Even more dangerous is so-called "black ice," which creates a nearly frictionless surface on the road that can cause even the biggest tires to slip. Thousands of accidents every year are attributed to black ice. In addition to the potential damage to the vehicle itself, fragile cargoes can easily be damaged or destroyed in such accidents. While owner operators may find themselves facing penalties due to keeping their speeds low, these penalties are trivial compared to losing their cargoes, their lives, or the risk of causing someone else to lose theirs.
5) Pull Over
Unfortunately, all the precautions, skill, and nerve in the world cannot overcome the dangers of severe winter weather. In these situations, it is better for a driver to pull over and find a place to wait out the storm. Many drivers cite the possible expense of not making a delivery as scheduled as a good reason to press on in extreme weather conditions, but if the snow is falling faster than salt and sand trucks or plows can clear it away, this kind of thinking can result in a tragic accident. Of course making a timely delivery is important, but relatively few loads can legitimately be said to be "life or death" matters. Sitting in a motel room or truck stop waiting for a storm to break may not seem like the most cost-effective way of getting from place to place, but contrasted against the risk of having an accident that will assure the load never gets where it's going, most drivers will agree that it is far better to wait.
6) Safety First
Many drivers, when on the job & considering the options and planning their routes to assure timely delivery, assume a set and continuous speed throughout the trip. However, winter driving can change these considerations drastically. Particularly when snow and ice are present, keeping the vehicle's speed constant but slow enough to be able to respond effectively to hazards is a good start. Drivers often talk about "white line fever," where they slip into a fugue state and drive for minutes or hours without recalling one thing they saw. Situations like these are exceptionally dangerous, because the driver's full focus is not on the road. Additionally, odds are good the driver is not checking their mirrors or scanning the road properly. Safety and alertness should always be the first consideration when driving in winter road conditions.