Winter weather can be unpredictable, and conditions can seemingly go from fair to harsh in the blink of an eye. It’s part of the reason why even the most experienced truck drivers can struggle with the wide range of potential hazards. Safe, cautious driving is important any time of year, but it’s especially critical during the winter months, as nearly a quarter of weather-related vehicle crashes happen this time of year.
Just as important as driving safely this time of year is proper truck care and maintenance. Below-freezing temperatures can cause significant problems for many different types of equipment, and your truck is no different. Preventative maintenance is essential for avoiding breakdowns that can leave you in a tough spot.
While the worst-case scenario might never happen, you still need to be prepared in case it does. Read on to learn some winter driving safety tips for surviving sub-zero temperatures while on the road and what you can do if you end up in an emergency situation.
What to Do Before You Drive
In addition to performing regularly scheduled maintenance before the winter months begin, it’s also important to inspect your equipment before you begin your route that day. Ensure that you have the right fuel in your vehicle and that your tank is at least half full in case you’re in a situation where you can’t move your vehicle and need to keep it running.
Also, consider adding fuel additives to improve performance and make sure that your tires, battery, fluids, radiator system, windshield wipers and more are all in working order. It also goes without saying that you should clear any ice or snow from your mirrors, lights or windshield.
Aside from your equipment, you should also be checking the weather forecast along your entire route each day before you hit the road, as conditions can differ significantly depending on where you go. If unfavorable conditions are either possible or expected, consider adjusting your timeline to leave additional time in case of weather delays.
Additionally, make sure to dress warmly for your drive! Consider investing in high-quality, durable winter gear such as a pair of boots, a jacket, gloves, socks, a winter hat and more, and don’t forget to pack extra handwarmers.
Finally, make sure that all of the technology at your disposal is working properly. Whether its your phone, a GPS system in your truck, an electronic logging device or anything else, it’s important to make sure that you’re aware of road closures, or anything else that may cause a delay along your route and that you’re able to communicate those delays to the people who need to know.
While You’re on the Road
Planning for the worst conditions is one thing, but it’s something else entirely when the hypothetical turns into reality. When the weather turns harsh while on the road, here are some winter driving safety tips to remember:
Drive cautiously (and defensively).
Most people know to drive slower and to use more caution in adverse weather, but it’s especially important for truck drivers to remain vigilant given the size of their vehicles. Don’t be afraid to go under the speed limit, if necessary, as higher speeds make it more difficult to stop abruptly.
Give as much room as possible to the other drivers around you, especially those in front of you, to give yourself more control in the event of a sudden stop. This not only can help prevent your truck from sliding or rolling over, but it can also save lives.
Watch out for bridges.
Elevated road surfaces, such as overpasses and bridges, can be especially dangerous in sub-zero temperatures or winter storms as they tend to freeze quicker. These surfaces are also more susceptible to black ice, which isn’t inherently more dangerous than regular ice but can be more difficult to see because of its thin, clear nature. When driving on a bridge or an overpass, make sure to go even slower and leave more room for the drivers in front of you.
Get back to basics.
All of us are guilty of doing things we probably shouldn’t do on the road, whether it’s driving with one hand on the wheel, sending a text or something else. However, basic driving fundamentals are especially important in adverse conditions.
Make sure you’re always focused on the road and other drivers, keep both hands on the wheel, check twice before turning and be cautious with your speed, particularly when accelerating and decelerating. Also, when driving up hills, make sure to go at a slow and steady pace (rather than powering up) and don’t stop.
Put your safety first.
We get it. Sometimes you have a tight deadline to deliver loads, and maybe the harsh weather conditions aren’t expected to last long. There may be times when you’re tempted to push through bad weather and just keep going. However, you need to trust your gut.
The most important winter driving safety tip is this: if you think the weather might be too difficult to drive in, then it is. Don’t be afraid to pull over or stop at the nearest rest station if one is nearby. Follow your fleet’s safety protocols and communicate with everyone you need to that your ETA will be delayed. No delivery is worth putting your safety or your life at risk.
What to do in an Emergency Situation
First things first, it’s critical to have emergency supplies packed in case you find yourself stranded in winter weather. Every driver should have at least some, if not all, of the following items:
- Cell phone car chargers
- Extra winter clothing (hats, gloves, scarves and more)
- Non-perishable foods and bottled water
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Snow scraper, brush and shovel
- Tire chains
- Traction aids such as salt and sand
- First-aid kit
- Reflective or warning triangles (put outside of the vehicle to signal a breakdown)
In the event you’re stranded in sub-zero temperatures, the first step is to contact someone if you’re able to. Once you do (and even if you can’t), it’s especially important to stay in or at your vehicle and don’t try to walk somewhere else. Your vehicle is the best shelter you have in this instance to help you at least mitigate the effects of the cold weather, and it makes it easier for rescuers to locate you.
Staying put also helps prevent you from getting lost or being hit by an oncoming driver that may not see you (especially at night). If you do step out of your truck, make sure not to stay outside too long and don’t over-exert yourself. You can also use this time as an opportunity to ensure that your exhaust pipe isn’t blocked by ice, snow or mud. When you are back in the vehicle, a helpful tip is to run the engine for a long enough time to warm your vehicle, but not so long that you use too much fuel.