Last month, we explored how to navigate extreme weather behind the wheel. We covered some of the basics, from the importance of learning winter weather terminology to truck maintenance tips for the winter season. The message was clear: while we can’t control the weather forecast, there are practical actions we can take to improve road safety.
Now that we are in the thick of winter, it’s important to be aware of safety strategies that seasoned drivers use to navigate the roads as safely as possible in extreme winter conditions.
Slow down. Posted speed limits apply for optimal road conditions. When visibility is poor, slow down.
Plan ahead. Before heading out on the road, prepare a contingency plan for what you will do if weather conditions worsen. Always listen to the weather forecast, current closures and road conditions, and local winter requirements like using tire chains.
Leave room. Remember, winter weather can mean slippery roads and decreased visibility. Leave lots of extra room between your truck and other vehicles on the road. Try not to drive beside snowplows and leave at least 200 feet between yourself and snow service vehicles.
Pay attention to dashboard warning lights. And bear in mind that in extreme cold, the regeneration process required for emissions control may not work.
Understand how weather conditions limit visibility.When visibility is limited, always keep your headlights on and utilize low beam headlights.
Don’t brake suddenly. By braking early, you provide drivers behind you sufficient time to react and slow down. This is especially important in slippery road conditions. It’s also important not to use cruise control and to avoid sudden driving manoeuvres.
Clear away ice and snow off your rooftop. To improve visibility by keeping your
mirrors and windshield clean, make a habit out of brushing ice and snow off the rooftop of your vehicle before driving.
Skidding? Turn into it. Quickly depress the clutch, check your left mirror and steer and counter-steer to get back in front of the trailer as fast as you can.
Keep distractions to a minimum.In extreme winter weather, you need to be focussed. Stay off your phone and keep the radio off.
Approach curves and intersections with caution. To maintain control of your vehicle, slow down and be careful when you approach curves, intersections, bridges and overpasses (especially in icy conditions).
Don’t idle your truck. At 10 degrees, your Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tank is likely to freeze. Start driving right away to make sure your heaters warm up your DEF so it can circulate through the engine.
Follow your instincts. There is such thing as driver’s intuition. If you don’t feel safe driving in extreme weather conditions, pull over and wait it out.
Find A Safe Spot to Stop. If you have to pull over, make sure you can do so safely. Ensure maximum visibility of your truck and use cones, flashers and emergency triangles. Whenever you exit the vehicle, always wear a reflective vest.
Keep Your Tank At Least Half Full. In winter weather, make sure your tank is at least half full with a blended fuel to help prevent fuel lines from freezing.
Watch Out for Black Ice. Black ice is a thin, transparent layer of ice that forms when temperatures are near freezing. It often makes road appear slightly wet. Black ice often forms first on bridges, overpasses, intersections and in shaded areas.
By incorporating these winter safety habits into your driving routine, you can help minimize the risk of danger on the road. That is why CHET makes preventative safety strategies a critical component of our curriculum. We also cover what drivers should carry in their cab in case of emergency as well as signs of driver fatigue they need to be aware of in winter weather, and indeed all weather conditions.
Preparing Your Driver Emergency Kit
It’s always important to carry an emergency driver kit in case of an urgent situation or vehicle breakdown. This is all the more important in the winter season, when weather conditions provide added health and safety risks. Here are some of the items you should have on your emergency checklist:
- Non-perishable food and a can opener
- Bottled water
- A warm blanket and/or sleeping bag
- Proper clothing (a winter coat, rain gear, and an extra pair of gloves, socks, hat, etc.)
- A fully stocked First Aid kit
- Your prescription medication
- A pocket knife
- A small shovel
- A bag of salt or sand for tire traction
- A cell phone, power charger and external batteries
- A flashlight with extra batteries
- Extra washer fluid
- A tool set (pliers, wrench, screwdriver, etc.)
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Jumper cables
- A windshield brush and scraper for snow removal
Battling Driver Fatigue
Alertness is essential in winter weather conditions. That’s why it’s important that drivers be aware of the signs of driver fatigue. Of course you need to be concerned about falling asleep at the wheel. However, it’s equally important to be aware of tiredness and exhaustion, which slow your reflexes and decrease your ability to concentrate and respond quickly to conditions.
Here are a few ways to prevent accidents related to driver fatigue:
Know the signs. Be aware of the early signs of driver fatigue such as drowsiness, frequent blinking and yawning.
Be honest with yourself. If you feel yourself growing weary and need a break, don’t try to push through it and be a hero. It’s not worth the risk. Find somewhere safe to stop and take at least a 20 to 30 minute nap.
Stick to highway routes when possible. It’s more difficult to find a rest area on a two-lane road. Try to use highways with rest stops as much as possible.
Eat well! Eating light, fresh meals will energize you as opposed to sugar and carbohydrate heavy foods which will leave you feeling tired.
Be schedule savvy. If you struggle with fatigue in pre-dawn hours, try to avoid scheduling driving during these hours when possible.
Know the side-effects of your meds. Either avoid medications that may cause drowsiness or don’t schedule drives when you need to be on these medications.
Winter weather can make driving more challenging, but with adequate preparation, extra caution, and alertness, you can minimize the risk of both mechanical failures and accidents on the road.