What Drivers Need To Know About Driving Tractor Trailers In Winter Conditions:
- Winter driving conditions present a whole new set of challenges and approaches to safety for new drivers. A driver's main concerns will be visibility and road conditions.
- Never be afraid to shut down and park when you become uncomfortable with the conditions. Pushing through a mountain blizzard at 20 mph with chains on the tires generally won't get you far enough to make it worth the risk, but WILL burn up your clock, and tires.
- Pay very close attention to the forecast for your route and identify potential parking areas before you begin your day.
- Winter driving will require additional equipment to help the driver cope with the perils of driving a truck in inclement weather. Not only will you need tools and supplies to deal with the weather, but also extra food, water, and clothing in case of emergency.
- Always check with your company before using fuel additives or otherwise making any modifications to the truck, if you don't own it.
- "No load is worth your life" is a mantra you'll often hear from truckers. Heed that advice.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) operates a service, called 511, designed to provide updated travel conditions for any state in the country, by simply dialing "511"
See This Article Also: Truck Driving in Winter Weather by TruckerMike
Montana Highway Patrol Winter Driving Awareness Video
See This Article Also: CDL Training During The Winter: Good Idea Or Impending Doom?
Items To Take For Winter Truck Driving:
In addition to the usual items that drivers will need on the road, winter conditions sometimes require seasonal gear to keep them warm, safe, and alive.
Warm Winter Clothes:
Especially if you are typically driving in the North, or over mountains, a good winter jacket, hat or ski-mask, and gloves are absolutely essential to life on the road. In treacherous conditions, good winter protection could become vital. Pack clothes that can be "layered", rather than one bulky item, especially if you will be spending a generous amount of your time outside the truck, i.e. flatbedders.
Flatbedders, being exposed to the weather on a more regular basis, will especially want to pay attention to the quality of their winter gear. Even in Southern states, overnight temperatures can still plummet well below freezing.
Waterproof gloves, while more expensive, will keep your hands warmer, longer, and allow you to keep using them, if necessary.
Good, Water-Proof Boots (and Good Socks):
Waterproof and insulated boots with a good sole for traction. In case water does get in, good wool socks will help keep your feet warm for a short time. The first time you get out of the cab and step in a ankle-deep hole filled with icy water covered in snow you will appreciate having brought along a good pair of boots.
Ice Scraper or Brush/Foldable Snow Shovel:
Also, windshield deicer is a useful item to keep on hand, as well.
Extra Snacks & Bottled Water:
Non-perishable foods, like canned goods and pre-packaged snacks are generally items that will come in handy in any weather, but in case of emergency, or even if you have to wait out a blizzard, keeping food on hand will make it abit more bearable.
Eating snow is, contrary to popular belief, NOT a good way to stay hydrated, as it takes more energy for your body to heat and melt it than is gained. Easier to just have jugs or bottles of water on hand at all times. If you do, as a last resort, need to rely on snow, try to melt it into water first.
In an emergency,or if you are stranded, will keep you warmer in case of mechanical issues that prevent the truck from running, or the heat in the truck from working.
Bag Of Ice Melt Or Road Salt:
In case of snow or ice build-up in front of or behind the drive wheels, to help get the tractor moving.
Kitty litter or sand could also work, in a pinch. Anything that improves traction.
Diesel Fuel Anti-gel:
Diesel fuel, and other petroleum products, contains paraffin wax, which helps increase fuel engine power and MPG, and fuel stability, viscosity, and lubricity. It also likes to gel up and clog the fuel filter in very low temperatures, eventually preventing the engine from getting enough fuel to run.
As the air temperature drops, the wax begins to crystalize, starting at the "cloud point" of around 32 degrees F for most diesel fuel. Essentially, diesel fuel anti-gel disrupts the wax molecules from congealing into a mass, or "glob", and plugging up the fuel filter, by lowering the temperature at which the wax begins to crystalize.
It is a good idea to also carry an extra fuel filter during the colder months, just in case. Avoid letting your gas tank fall below half-full, whenever possible or reasonable, and add anti-gel when the temperature is above the cloud point, to ensure that it will mix with the fuel properly. Always check with your company's mechanics before adding ANYTHING to the fuel, to ensure compatibility and avoid damaging the engine or fuel system.
If you happen to get stranded, or stuck, you do NOT want to run out of your favorite blood pressure or other necessary medication.
Other Handy Winter Items For Truckers:
- Candle and Matches
- Flashlight and spare batteries
- Spare cell phone batteries
- Tire chains (required in some places)
- Strap-on boot traction equipment
- Jumper Cables
Winter Truck Driving Tips:
See Also: Daniel B.'s Winter Truck driving Tips
Pay Attention To The Weather Forecast:
It cannot be stressed enough that knowing what the weather is doing up ahead of you, or is going to do, or might do, or forecasters think there may be a chance of it doing, will help you plan your trip, manage your time, and stay clear of danger.
Plan trips according the weather conditions forecast, and keep up with any changes. Learn to read the weather radars, and check them frequently.
Prevent Brakes From Freezing
When you set your parking brakes in extremely cold temperatures they become prone to freezing. There are two things you can do to prevent this:
- Drag your brakes a little. When you're getting ready to park, make sure you drag your brakes a little before stopping. That will build up heat in the brakes which will evaporate any moisture that accumulated on the brake shoes, preventing the shoes from freezing to the drums.
- Only set your tractor brakes and not your trailer brakes. The power of your engine will break loose any ice that accumulates on your drive axle brakes.
Avoid Using Your Jake Brakes
The Jake Brakes can be dangerous on slick roads because you are only applying braking pressure to the drive axles. You're running the risk of causing the drive axles to break loose. When braking on slick roads be sure to use the foot brake and avoid the Jake Brake if possible.
Increase your following distance
G-Town, a moderator in our forum, put it well:
If at all possible I try to double my following distance in the snow and wintery mix. I also will drop my speed, especially if I am dead heading. I am highly vigilant to avoid bunching and clustering with traffic and other trucks. In my opinion, space management is the single most important winter driving discipline there is. If that's the only thing you do...you should be able to keep yourself out of harms way.
Keep That CB Radio On
The CB radio can save your life, or the lives of others. Make sure you have that radio on to receive reports about conditions ahead, and report conditions to drivers going the opposite direction. There is no better way to find out about road conditions or emergencies ahead of you than the CB radio.
Park The Truck:
In the end, the decision to drive is the driver's alone, nobody else's. If you are not comfortable driving in the conditions then park the truck and don't let anyone else influence your decision.
You will never find a storm so severe that nobody will take the risk of driving through it. If the roads are open, there will be drivers on the highway and they will make a point of mocking anyone sitting in the truck stops on the CB as if the people who chose to safely wait it out are the dumb ones. Don't be suckered into risking your life and your careeer. Park it and go enjoy a good sirloin steak and a movie.
Some states require that commercial vehicles carry tire chains at all times. If the weather gets bad enough that chains would be necessary to drive through it, most drivers will consider it too dangerous to drive, and shut down until it's safe to drive again.
If you do drive knowing you may be encountering bad weather, be prepared to find a safe place to pull off the highway, or crawl along the shoulder until you reach an exit or rest stop, if necessary. Any time the highway departments start closing exits or stretches of interstate , it would be a good time to find a safe place to park the truck.
Prevent Braking When Possible:
Increase your following distance and try to avoid situations that would require you to use the brake pedal. Take curves extra slow and get down to the proper speed before you get to the curve. You would like to avoid hitting your brakes in the middle of a curve.
Watch Your Mirror Brackets And Tires For Ice
The mirror brackets on your rig will often be the first place that ice starts to accumulate. If you're unsure whether the roads are icy or not, keep an eye on those mirror brackets. When ice starts forming on the brackets you know there could be ice on the roadways also.
Also, watch the tires of other vehicles. If there is a wet spray coming off them then their might not be any ice on the highway, though this is no guarantee. If the roads look kind of wet but you don't see any spray coming off the tires it is highly likely you're on ice.
Drain Your Air Tanks Regularly
Make sure your air dryer is working properly and go out of your way to drain your air tanks regularly. You don't want any water in the air lines. The lines will freeze up and you'll have a heck of a time getting them cleared out.
You can also add a little rubbing alcohol to your air lines at the gladhands to melt any ice that might be forming in your trailer air lines.
Black ice is just regular ice, but virtually transparent, and while regular ice may appear shiny or different in color, large patches of black ice will appear the same color as the roadway. In conditions that were recently wet and at temperatures right around 32 degrees F, black ice forms on a surface and is almost unnoticeable.
Black ice will tend to form first on bridges and overpasses, as air can circulate both under and above the surface, causing surface temperatures to drop more rapidly. Road signs stating "Bridge May Be Icy", or simply showing a set of wavy skidmarks, are common in particularly problematic areas.
Hint: Watch for tire spray from other vehicles. If it's below 32 degrees F, and the roads look wet, but there is no spray coming from the tires, you're probably driving on ice.
Keep Electronics Charged:
When possible, keep cell phones, laptop computers, etc., as well as batteries, plugged in while driving, to give you the most battery life in case of emergency.
Mini portable external batteries are gaining popularity as a backup/additional power source for cell phones and tablets. Mini Portable Charger Examples
In Case Of Emergency On The Road In Winter:
GPS, satellite tracking, etc., means that somebody, somewhere probably knows where you are. If you get stranded, stay calm and plot your next move. There could be worse things than being stuck in your road-home in a blizzard.
Remember those extra batteries, and keeping things charged up? Depending on your level of emergency, call your company or emergency personnel.
Stay In The Truck:
If possible, and safe, never leave the truck. Not only will the truck offer protection from much of the weather, but a person walking through a snowstorm is much harder to find than a stranded truck.
Mr.Sinnizter DaTrucker: Winter Trucking Tips
Truck driver discusses items to bring on the road during the winter months.