Winter Driving Tips

For Professional Truck Drivers

Helpful tips for graduates and other truck drivers who may find themselves working in some of the frozen parts of the country.

Winter Driving Tips for Truck Drivers

When traveling in colder climates one must always be ready for whatever you may encounter. Yes, this is common sense… But how many of us jump in our vehicle when the weather looks nice and end up in a storm?

  • Proper clothing (loose layers of clothing, extra gloves, rain gear)
  • A coat to support the temperature for either day or night
  • A flashlight in the glove box
  • A blanket, food and water
  • A bag of sand or salt and extra windshield washer fluid
  • A windshield scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire chains or traction mats
  • Have at least a half tank of gas at all times during the winter
  • Plan long trips carefully—what weather conditions may you encounter?

Complete a Pre-Trip Inspection

Professional drivers are required to inspect their vehicles before every trip. We do a visual, hands-on inspection and check all important items, including tires, wiper blades, fluids, and lights. Check your vehicle more often due to temperatures.

Slow down

Most winter accidents occur because drivers are going too fast for road conditions. A slower speed gives you more time to react if something occurs. Hydroplaning happens more frequently at higher speeds, including loss of control due to slush. Extra patience and care for other drivers can help a lot.

Give yourself plenty of safe space

Following distance… Allow for more room between yourself and other vehicles. You should always have enough space and time to move out of harm’s way.

Hold your steering wheel firmly

Sudden, sharp moves can quickly cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Keep your vehicle steady through ruts in the road, heavy wind and on ice. Keep both hands on wheel.

Brake and accelerate lightly

Try not to do anything forcefully in bad weather. Anti-locking Braking Systems (ABS) can be your friend when used properly. If your vehicle has an anti-locking braking system (ABS), you should press and hold the brake down as far as possible in an emergency. The ABS prevents the wheels from locking, enabling you to steer around obstacles. If not equipped, when you need to slow down quickly in slippery conditions, try lightly pumping your brakes. This reduces your chance of locking your tires and spinning out of control.

Watch for black ice!

Black ice is a dangerous road condition. It is a thin layer of transparent ice that forms when the temperature is close to freezing and sometimes makes the road look slightly wet. Never assume just because the sun is out that the road is just wet. Black Ice is difficult to spot, so when the temperature gets close to freezing, look for small clues:

  • Ice build-up on a trucks mirror arms, antennas, or the top corners of the windshield
  • The spray from tires on vehicles in front of you will stop

Use extra caution when approaching bridges

Elevated structures, such as bridges and highway overpasses, usually freeze first, and many are not treated with ice-/snow-melt materials (salt, sand) like the rest of the road. Often vehicles are traveling fine on the highway, but as soon as they get on a bridge, they spin out of control. Black ice is often found on bridges.

Mountain driving is often hazardous

Mountain weather can be severe and unpredictable in winter, often changing rapidly. Be ready for wind gusts and watch and/or listen for emergency vehicles and snowplows. If at all possible, do not stop in avalanche zones. Obey posted rules, each state varies. Tire chains may be required for certain routes.

Obey all road signs

Safety authorities post warning information for a reason. I curve posted at 35 mph is posted as such because testing has determined that that is the maximum safe speed for ANY vehicle.

If stranded or stuck, stay in your vehicle

If you get stuck in a bad storm, blizzard, slide off the road, and you can’t see a close place to seek assistance, stay put! It’s easy to get confused in a bad storm, and you may get lost. Bundle up. You should also keep moving to stay warm. Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Run your engine for only 10-15 minutes each hour.

If conditions look bad, get off the road

Don’t push your luck and assume that plows have treated the roadways. Use your best judgment. Listen to weather reports and warnings and react appropriately.

Learn and use the Smith System® safety education program that uses the “Five Keys to Space-Cushion Driving.” Many carriers make this a required training for their drivers.

The five keys are:

  • Aim High in Steering: Make sure you’re looking far enough ahead of your vehicle, so you have time to react to any hazardous situation.
  • Get the Big Picture: Look all around your vehicle.
  • Keep Your Eyes Moving: Continuously scan the entire area.
  • Leave Yourself an Out: Always have an escape plan for you and your vehicle.
  • Make Sure They See You: Make other drivers aware of your presence.

Always be alert, use good judgment on weather.  A good driver will shut down when the weather is too bad.  This could be snow, ice, high winds.  They also need to be professional when notifying their driver managers with a good reason why they are shutting down.  I would also like to add, having good communication with your driver manager goes a long way.  Be clear and explaining your situation.

Is there a “worst” temperature?

This may sound strange, but colder doesn’t always mean worse in terms of slippery road conditions. It goes without saying that you should always exercise great caution at any temperature, but it’s worth noting that the roads may be particularly slippery between 22 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. According to a Road & Track article, when the weather is in this temperature range your tires may actually get less grip than they do at even colder temperatures. The article also points out, though, that the road temperature may not always be the same as the air temperature, depending on traffic patterns and other factors.

Don’t just know the current temperature. Know yesterday’s, too.

If the temperature drops overnight, especially if it rained the day before, the roads could be slick with ice. It’s not enough to know what the weather is doing on a particular day. You should also pay attention to the previous day’s conditions, especially if you’re coming back from home time and hitting the road fresh. Find out if it rained along your route and, if so, compare the previous day’s temperatures to upcoming temperatures. Knowing what to expect can help you to adjust accordingly and stay safe.

Consider your speed in context.

Obviously, you shouldn’t go faster than the speed limit. But keep in mind that if weather and road conditions worsen, even trying to drive at the maximum posted speed could be unrealistic. Don’t look at those speed limits as the number to hit. Instead, you should never feel compelled to drive faster than road conditions allow. Some roads have minimum speed limits posted, but it’s important to use your discretion and go slower in bad weather. Slowing down may cost you some time, but an accident could cost you even more time or worse. If there is a minimum speed limit posted and the weather is so bad that you don’t think you could even go the minimum speed safely, then you should strongly consider waiting out the bad weather.

Don’t forget to treat your fuel.

According to an article on Coops Are Open, a truck safety information website, cold temperatures can cause diesel to gel which can prevent a truck from running. The website suggests stocking up on anti-gel in advance of bad weather. That way, you won’t get stuck searching for it when the bad weather moves in and other truck drivers start buying it all up.

Above all else, be sure to use your best judgment in bad conditions. You’re the one out there on the road, so if it doesn’t seem safe to be driving then you might be better off waiting it out.