It’s that time of year again; winter is upon us. It is no secret that safety is our number one priority, and we believe it is important to share helpful tips throughout the year, especially during the winter months.

It would be nice to just head south for the winter but freight doesn’t always give us that luxury.  Just when we think we are heading for clearer skies we get turned around by a “hot” load that sends us back into the cold.  Here are some “Stay Safe” tips to get you through the winter chill.

Stay Safe by Planning Your Trip

Trip planning is the key to safe and stress free winter truck driving.  Don’t wait until the winter months to start planning for winter.  What does this mean?  It means that when the weather is good, take notes on where the chain up and chain off places are.  Build a library of safe places to park so you have alternatives when your planned stop does not pan out.  How many of us have had the experience of aiming for that rest area only to find that it is closed?  That is all fine in fair weather but when the blizzard hits we better have a plan B to get to our next safe place.

A big part of trip planning in the winter is monitoring the weather.  There are many sources for weather: the XM radio, the Weather Channel (usually on at the truck stops), the Internet (from our smartphone or Wi-Fi), 511 from the not-so-smart phones, and our old friend – the robotic voice of NOAA weather.  Lastly, there is the old school method of predicting the weather – using the CB to get information about what the conditions are ahead.  I know, I know, there are false weather reports out there that our fellow truck drivers dish out but for the most part there is good information.

Take out your map, your library of safe places to park, and the weather information you gathered and plan your trip.  Plan it so that you are going over the passes when the snow has melted (or at least after the plows have had a chance to work the road a bit).  In bad weather, calculate your speed at 25mph – if you do better than that great.  If you overestimate your speed you may run out of your driving hours or hit your 14 before you can get to a safe place.  Remember that the “extra two hours of driving for unforeseen traffic or weather” only applies if it isunforeseen – you cannot tell DOT that you did not see the winter storm coming when it has been broadcast by every news report and DOT traffic sign.

Stay Safe by Doing a Proper Pre-Trip and En Route Inspections

A proper Pre-Trip should be done rain or shine, but it becomes even more important in the winter.  Make sure all lights work because half of them will be covered in road grime after 50 miles in the snow.  Drain air from both the truck’s tanks and the trailer’s.  Condensation in the air lines is the #1 cause of frozen brakes.  Having a flat tire can be catastrophic when we pull off to the shoulder only to find that after we get the tire fixed we need to be winched out of the snow because the shoulder was really a mud hole covered by snow.  A breakdown on the truck in sub-zero temperatures quickly turns into a life threatening situation.  Working in the breakdown department at GTI,  I have had to tell more than a few drivers the bad news that no one – not even a tow – will come out to help them because the weather is bad.

Check your equipment while en route – especially before going into the storm. Also, do not forget to stopafter going through a patch of bad weather to knock the snow and ice off the mud flaps, ICC bumper, chain hangers, etc.   I am reminded of a run to Hutchinson, KS with a student.  We were running on snow and ice and it was 30 degrees out.  We stopped at the scale in Kemmerer, WY and before going into the scale house we knocked some snow off the truck and trailer.  Big blocks of ice came off the under carriage of the trailer.  When we went in the scale the DOT officer was impressed and told us a story about how, only a week before, a car’s front end and windshield were damaged by a block of ice coming off the trailer and ricocheting off the tandems of the truck.

Bottom line – make sure your equipment is in top shape.

Stay Safe by Having the Proper Equipment

Be prepared (as the boy scouts say).  Have the right equipment for the job (and the weather).

Items you should make sure you have:

Chaining equipment

  • Chains – make sure you have enough and have the right size!
  • Bungees
  • Cam Lock T-handles
  • Good, waterproof gloves
  • Reflective vest
  • Flashlight
  • Kneeling pad

Personal Equipment

  • Boots with good traction
  • Hats, gloves, scarves – whatever you need to keep you warm
  • Extra warm bedding

Equipment for the Truck

  • Extra Washer Fluid
  • Anti-gel, Anti-gel, Anti-gel

Stay Safe by Knowing the Limits of Yourself, Others, and Your Equipment

Here is another example from the road.  A student of mine was driving over Vail Pass and we had the CB on.   He was driving a little slower than I would but that was ok by me. It was not ok according to the tailgating driver behind us.  After hearing enough from him on the CB about how my student wasn’t a “real” truck driver we turned him off and ignored him.

The student was real shook up.  I told him that even though he was a new (and not so experienced) driver, he was being a professional because he was taking into account not just the condition of the road, the limitations of the truck, and the skill of the people on it – but also his own limited skills, abilities, and experience.

Do not let someone else drive your truck!  If you do not feel comfortable going down the road in bad weather – don’t!  It is ok, though to find a mentor who will roll with you through the ice and snow and give you some guidance.  Find that person you can trust and buy them dinner in exchange for some wisdom of the road.