Driving on ice and snow in white-out conditions is serious business. Truckers have a difficult job to do, and there are times that job only gets done under pretty hazardous conditions.
For all of you seasoned veterans, you know a thing or two about how to take on ice and snow. However, if you’re new to truck driving and worried about hitting the road this season, check out some winter driving tips that should help you get where you’re going.
If you know there’s a chance you could encounter snow or ice, plan ahead. It could save you a lot of frustration when it comes to alternate routes, parking your truck, fueling up, and more. Use N.O.A.A.’s National Weather Service website to check the forecast and see if there’s any active alerts you need to worry about. The DOT’s Federal Highway Administration website can connect you to any state’s road cameras and traffic reports so you can check for road closures and troublesome spots. And the bottom line is that if you know you can’t get somewhere safely on time, then call your freight dispatcher or broker so they know what’s going on and why. They can notify the receiver and make alternate arrangements for you.
Always do a pre-check inspection.
You probably already do this anyway, but get in the habit of double checking that the:
- Brake lights and tail lights are visible and functioning correctly.
- Moisture has been drained from the air tanks.
- Defrost and heat are working properly.
- Mirrors are in the right positions and clean of road grime.
- Wipers are in good order and you have extra wiper fluid to keep the windshield clean.
The single most important thing you can do while driving during hazardous conditions is slow own. You’ll hear it again and again, and that’s because the majority of accidents are caused or made worse by driving faster than conditions allow. If roads are snowy or icy, it doesn’t matter what the speed limit is, you’re going to need to slow down.
It’s not just important to slow down your speed, slowing everything down will help. That means steering slow and steady to prevent going into a skid or jackknifing, applying the brakes slowly so they don’t lock up and you can maintain traction in the snow, etc. You want to prevent any sudden, jolts to the vehicle to make sure you’re always in control. Practicing slow and steady driving when it’s nice outside will help.
Some pro tips to help get you through:
- When driving on packed snow, check your rearview mirrors to see what color your tread is. A general rule of thumb is that if the tread is black, your tires are hot and you’re going too fast. Carefully slow down until the tread is white which means you’re driving on cooler tries and have more traction.
- If you’re on a wet surface and the amount of spray coming from other tires on the road is decreasing, black ice could be forming. Carefully slow down and take it easy until the hazardous conditions are passed.
In general, don’t worry about what speed the other drivers around you are doing, and take as much time as you need. If they need to pass you, they will. And the same goes for other truckers. If they pass you, it may be because they’re carrying a much different load, have a different weight, etc. Each truck is different, and you know how yours handles so drive it based on the conditions you find yourself in.
Use your CB.
If you don’t have a CB radio, get one, and keep it on when approaching dangerous mountain passes and driving through hazardous weather conditions. A CB radio is great for finding out what kind of road conditions you can expect, not to mention you can plan for pulling over, chaining up, etc.
Maintain a safe following distance.
Make sure you’re leaving plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least a quarter of a mile between you. Then, if someone ahead of you suddenly brakes or hits some patchy ice and starts sliding, you have time to react. Slowly move over, careful not to jerk the steering wheel, and go around them if necessary.
Steer clear from packs.
You’ve probably noticed that traffic seems to move in clusters. If you’re nervous about traveling the interstate with so many vehicles around you, consider separating from the pack. Safely let them move ahead of you so you can have some additional distance and time to react in case of an accident.
Avoid stopping on the shoulder.
Sometimes this can’t be helped for safety reasons. Just use caution as you don’t want a vehicle to think you’re in a lane and come up and hit you from behind.
Keep your lights clean.
Make sure you clear off your headlights, tail lights, etc. every time you stop. Snow, ice, and road grime can build up making it hard to see others, and making it hard for others to see you.
Use caution if you’re following tail lights.
Often times when visibility is low – especially in cases of dense snow or fog! – we just follow the tail lights ahead us. The problem with this tactic is that those lights could lead you right off the road. Make sure you’re paying attention to the what’s going on around those tail lights and you’re not just following them blindly.
That means keeping the cell phone turned off or put away, and avoiding anything that could distract you from the road.
Watch your RPMs.
Watch your RPMs when going uphill. Do what you can to keep them down which will help prevent torque. Too much torque will increase your chances of spinning out and losing control of your rig.
Use extra caution at bridges, overpasses, and ramps.
Make sure you start backing off the accelerator long before you reach a bridge, overpass, or ramp. Cold air flows all around a bridge or overpass so they’re more likely to freeze. On and off ramps are not always plowed. Using extra caution when approaching them.
Stay to the right.
It may be tempting to keep up when there’s a speedy trucker on your tail. Safety should always win out since you want to arrive alive at your destination. Stay to the right and let them pass.
Keep your fuel tanks full.
When your fuel tanks fall below three-quarters, fill them back up. Keeping your tanks full will provide additional weight to your truck and that can mean better traction.
Test the brakes.
It’s a good idea to gently test your brakes when there isn’t anyone behind you. Slow down to 15 mph or less and gently apply the brakes to see if the tires respond with some traction. Stopped wheels don’t have the same amount of traction as wheels in motion, so if you lock your wheels you may actually speed up a bit. Keep the brakes warm by gently holding them several times an hour which will help prevent them from freezing and becoming useless.
If cars and trucks are coming out of a mountain pass covered in snow, pull over and put your chains on (in some areas, chains are required by law so be prepared). If you’ve never put chains on before, make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions and practice so you know what to do when it becomes a necessity. It is still possible to slide with chains on; if conditions are bad enough, don’t be a hero. Pull over and wait out the storm if you have to.
Choose a place to park carefully, and make sure you avoid a situation in which your tires melt through the snow and freeze to the ice below. That can be a very dangerous situation, especially if you’re on any kind of incline. You can cool your tires off by rolling your truck back and forth 20-30 feet several times. It’s likely you won’t want to set your trailer brakes since they’ll probably freeze. You’re not going to be able to avoid situations in which snow accumulates around you as you’re sleeping or on break. Carry a shovel and rock salt or cat litter with you so you can get yourself free if you get stuck.
Keep emergency supplies on hand.
Unfortunately, you can never really plan when an emergency situation is going to happen. However, you can travel prepared to handle them if they occur. That means packing your truck with extra cold weather clothing, blankets, food, water, a tool kit, and much more. Check out our blog for everything you should be traveling with during a winter.
Use common sense.
If the road conditions or weather is so bad that you’re putting your life or the lives of others at risk, get off the road. Safety is far more important than any deadline. Find a place it’s safe to pull over and call your dispatcher or broker to let them know what’s going on. Hit the road again once it’s safe to do so.