Snow and ice are two of the worst conditions that truck drivers can face, and being as prepared as possible can reduce the risks of driving through winter storms. Earlier this month, FreightWaves offered several top winter weather driving tips for truckers. These are some additional, potentially life-saving tips suggested by drivers over the past few years.
Some truckers say freezing rain is the most challenging and dangerous type of weather to deal with behind the wheel. It can be nearly impossible to keep control of a tractor-trailer once roads become icy.
They suggest drivers keep a gauge in their trucks to monitor the outside temperature at all times. This allows them to see when the outside air temperature is dropping, and thus when rain may soon turn to ice.
When drivers see ice starting to form on their mirrors and/or windshields, or their gauge indicates that the outside temperature is dropping below freezing, they should get off the road as soon as possible.
It’s also important to find a safe place to exit and park until the weather improves. Road conditions during freezing rain are highly unpredictable, and truckers may run into patches of black ice. It’s better to pull over and wait it out rather than risk jackknifing.
If the weather forecast predicts heavy snow, drivers should have tire chains on board. This is required by law in several states. If the weather turns really ugly, drivers must be prepared to get off the road to chain up for better traction. Typically, state transportation departments alert drivers via road signs when they must apply their chains.
Severe winter weather can leave drivers stuck for long periods of time, and when storms dump excessive amounts of snowfall, it can be days before snow plow trucks are able to clear roads. In preparation for that possibility, drivers should be sure to fuel up before their trips. Truckers should also have plenty of warm clothing, hand warmers and some nonperishable foods on board.
Blowing or drifting snow can reduce visibility to nearly zero in a matter of minutes or even seconds. If snow drifts are piling up in the left lane, and the wind is blowing left to right, passing trucks will send snow off the ground right into another driver’s windshield.
In this case, truckers can work together. A trucker wanting to pass can communicate over CB with a nearby driver. The passing driver should wait until there is a clear path. This gives the other driver time to slow down and possibly move close to the shoulder, giving the passing driver a shot at avoiding some of the snow drift.
Not only do drivers risk frostbite or hypothermia when chaining up or strapping loads on a flatbed, but extreme cold itself can also stop trucks in their tracks.
When drivers park overnight just prior to a major deep freeze, letting their engines idle can help ensure they will be able to get back on the roads in the morning. Otherwise, their engines may not turn over. Even a dependable engine can let a driver down.
Idling in frigid weather can be useful, however, it should be the exception, not the rule. Idling trucks can be dangerous by polluting the air with harmful chemicals and gases. It can shave life off the engine and, in many jurisdictions, idling big rigs is illegal.
Some truckers have tried spraying ether on their frozen engines to help them crank (some diesel engines use ether to start). But ether is dangerous, and too much of it can blow the engine.