Long-haul driving can be a challenge in the best conditions; driving a rig in winter is even worse. In fact, more than 1,200,000 crashes occurred because of bad weather from 2004-2013, and in these accidents killed approximately 6,000. Trucks are specifically in danger under these conditions due their heavier loads and size. Teamsters may also run into difficulty driving safely through detours and road closures when the weather goes bad.
Luckily, the trucking community is fantastic when it comes to helping other drivers. A breakdown or a bad wreck on the highway can leave you stranded, and these events can happen in the blink of an eye. By preparing yourself and your rig and understanding how the road changes in the winter, you can stay safe while traveling.
The trucking industry is regulated heavily – but preparing for bad weather and understanding traffic patterns is all on the driver. Start by keeping yourself safe and planning for the worst. Your rig may run fine with a little maintenance, but being stuck on the side of the road in a freezing cab is still incredibly dangerous. Stay warm and safe with these tools:
- Extra clothes and blankets.
- Food and water.
If you are stranded, stay in your vehicle. Winter storms typically are accompanied by low visibility, and it’s easy to get lost or lose sight of the road. Other cars may not stop when they need to, which is another reason why getting out is a bad idea.
Prepare Your Rig
Rigs have to be maintained, and all drivers go through pre-trip inspections. But go the extra mile whenever bad weather is possible. Hand-check your tires, fluid levels, and wiper blades, and make sure the tractor and trailer lights are clean. If you’re traveling with any kind of load, verify that the weight is evenly distributed; this is especially important on icy or slick roads. Also, check that you have jumper cables, tire chains, and traction mats on hand.
Lastly, look into technology that can help you navigate through inclement weather. Many semi-trucks have GPS systems, but check that yours can receive weather updates. Apps for a smart phone or tablet are another option than can help you stay safe.
Prepare for the Road
The last step is to be aware of the road. This includes mental preparation, such as knowing your surroundings and other drivers’ behaviors. Pay attention to any changing conditions, memorize your route, and account for detours or the possibility of turning back. Prepping for the road also includes:
- Giving yourself enough braking space. Don’t follow other cars too closely; stay further away from other vehicles than you normally would. Slow down, and stay alert.
- Braking and accelerating appropriately. Don’t start or stop too quickly, and maintain an appropriate speed for conditions.
- Know when to call it quits. Regardless of your deadline, there are times when it’s simply not safe to drive. Know your limits, and pull over when the road is too dangerous.
Keep your eyes forward to give yourself plenty of time to react. Constantly scan ahead for any problems (like bridges – which quickly freeze over – and black ice), and draft an escape plan for your vehicle. Exercise common sense and good judgment, and rely on your experience to keep you safe.