Winter can be a dangerous time to be on the roadways, even for the most experienced drivers out there. However, if you take action before winter weather hits, you’re more likely to sail through the season with no problem. To help you prepare to stay safe this winter, we have consulted experienced truck drivers and fleet managers for their top winter driving tips for heavy duty trucks and commercial vehicles:
- Make sure your vehicle is in good condition before each trip.
Taking a little time before trips and during stops to check your vehicle’s condition can make a big difference:
- Clean all snow and ice from your vehicle, especially the hood, roof, trunk, lights and windows. Snow in any of these areas increases the chance that your visibility can be affected while you’re driving.
- Do a visual, hands-on inspection of tires, wiper blades and fluid, and lights. Know how to change a tire in case you have to.
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas at all times during the winter season.
- Carry a Winter Driving Kit.
Keep your Winter Driving Kit close by and stock it with:
- Proper clothing (loose layers, extra gloves, rain gear)
- A flashlight and batteries
- A blanket
- Non-perishable food and water
- A First Aid kit and any required prescription medication
- A bag of sand or salt
- Extra washer fluid
- A windshield scraper and brush for snow removal
- Jumper cables
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Cell phone and charger
- Start a little slower, drive a little slower.
Compensate for poor traction by increasing following distance, driving slower, and making all changes gently. A slower speed gives you more time to react if something occurs in the roadway ahead. Extra patience and awareness of other drivers can go a long way this time of year.
- Brake and accelerate slowly.
Avoid sudden stops and starts in icy or rainy weather. If you need to slow down quickly in slippery conditions, try lightly pumping your brakes using just the ball of your foot, keeping your heel on the floor. This reduces your chance of locking your tires and losing control of your vehicle.
- Give yourself extra space in front and behind.
To give yourself enough room to move out of harm’s way in a sudden emergency, increase the distance between you and other vehicles and avoid driving in packs. The stopping distance required on ice at 0°F is twice the amount required at 32°F. Normal following distances should be increased to 8-10 seconds when driving on icy, slippery surfaces.
- Take evasive action to avoid road hazards and collisions.
You may need to take evasive action to avoid a collision. At speeds above 25 mph, gentle deceleration and steering around obstacles is better than braking alone because less distance is required to steer around an object than to brake to a stop. In slick conditions, sudden braking can lead to a loss of control. The additional distance you have been keeping between other vehicles should give you more time to see and maneuver around obstacles and road hazards
- Hold your steering wheel with confidence and control.
Sudden, sharp movements can quickly cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Grip your steering wheel steadily and with a strong arm through ruts in the road, heavy wind, and on ice. Snowy or icy surfaces make steering difficult and require smooth, careful, precise movements of the steering wheel. Sudden movements of the steering wheel and excessive acceleration over ruts can cause your vehicle to go into a skid. Watch out for your trailer pushing you on curves and turns.
- Watch carefully for black ice.
Black ice is a thin layer of transparent ice that forms when the temperature is close to freezing. Black ice often makes the road surface look slightly wet like a water puddle, making it dangerously deceptive. Shaded spots, bridges, overpasses, and intersections are areas where ice is likely to form first or be the most slippery.
Hazardous icy road conditions can sneak up on you, so when the temperature gets close to freezing (below 40°F) watch out for these clues:
- Ice builds up on your outside mirror arms or backs, antenna, or the top corners of your windshield.
- Water spray from tires of vehicles in front of you suddenly stops, indicating an ice patch.
- Roadside trees and signs have a frosting of ice even though the road surface only looks wet.
- Be extra precautious when driving in mountains.
Mountain weather in winter can be severe and can change rapidly. Be ready for wind gusts in exposed positions and be aware of emergency vehicles and snowplows. Watch for melting or hard-packed snow and strong side winds as these can also cause a loss of control. If at all possible, do not stop in avalanche zones and always obey posted rules. Tire chains or snow tires may be required for certain routes. Local signage should indicate this and most states have a transportation radio station you can monitor with traffic and road condition updates in your trip area.
- If you do find yourself in a skid:
- Depress the clutch fast;
- Look at the left mirror only;
- Steer and counter-steer as fast as you can to get back in front of the trailer; keep fighting it until you regain control.
Remember: Don’t ask your truck to do more than it can. If you don’t feel comfortable driving for any reason, DON’T DRIVE!