As a safety consultant, I am often asked by my clients to put on driver seminars this time of year. From late October till Christmas, I find myself speaking at safety meetings all over the province.
The normal topics covered include: regulations, logbooks and of course winter driving tips and getting your truck and personal equipment ready for the cold weather, which is just around the corner. Sure, drivers carry extra gloves and warm clothes…like this is something new!
However, being a part-time driver for many years with SLH Transport and now working with drivers in a consulting role, I notice one major topic is missed. As a driver, are we really ready for winter?
This time of year presents new risks and a different reality of what it’s like to drive an 18-wheeler in the snow and ice. My baptism by fire came one night many years ago when I was asked to do a Sudbury switch in a Mack truck. While driving through blinding snow squalls on Hwy. 69, I soon realized that in the winter, the rules of driving have changed.
Ask any old-timer who has spent his nights around the Great Lakes and they will tell you that it doesn’t just snow; it seems to come down by the foot at times. I remember the whiteouts where you couldn’t see the bull dog on the end of the engine hood.
In the summer months we get used to driving a certain way, braking at certain times and going around corners at given speeds. In the winter, we as drivers have to re-evaluate how fast we drive and not ask the truck to do more than it has the traction to do.
Many accidents that result in a unit skidding off the highway or that dreaded word ‘jack knife’ are a result of the driver not slowing down, not adjusting his or her speed for conditions.
In the winter you must drive for conditions, drive at your level of comfort. Don’t be goaded into a speed where you are not comfortable, regardless of what buddy on the CB is telling you.
Perform all driving actions smoothly and drive way ahead of yourself. Do not travel in packs, try to stay alone. If someone in front of you loses control, you could be involved if there is not enough distance between you and the other driver.
Hard-packed snow and crosswinds create their own hazards. Strong side winds can blow you into another lane or into the ditch. Hard-packed snow can bounce the truck to the point you can lose control.
When you encounter snow drifting across the highway, beware if your steer tire gets caught up in the drift. It can pull the tractor into the ditch. If you are wondering if there are icy conditions forming on the highway, open up your window and feel the back of your mirror for ice. If you can’t see wheel spray coming off the vehicles that pass you or you see lots of their lights reflecting off the pavement at night, chances are you are on black ice.
For new drivers, turn off your Jake brake in the winter conditions. The Jake is so strong it can lock up your drive wheels when you let your foot off the accelerator, resulting in an unexpected skid. Bridges do not retain heat, so you can have black ice on a bridge long before you encounter it on the roads.
When crossing a bridge, I learned a little secret from an older driver: Just let up 100 rpm on the bridge and glide across. Let the unit settle down, don’t let off too much or the trailer can push you.
If you’re in the north and the traction is lousy and you can’t find the lane markers, try moving to the right lust a little and you will find the rumble strip or the stone shoulder which will give you the traction to slow down. Remember a skidding tire has less traction than a rolling one; the skidding tire will always lead your unit. If you find yourself on ice, get off the brake. If you are hard on the brake, it will take you into the ditch most times.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t see or maintain a speed of 50 km/h, get off the road. You are far better being late or waiting out the storm than having to phone dispatch and explain why you’re in the rhubarb. Professional drivers don’t get good at pulling a truck out of a skid; professional drivers get good at avoiding skids. We all need to come home safely; other motorists and our families are counting on it. Remember that all trucks are equipped with the most advanced anti-skid device known; it’s called the “professional driver.” Have a safe winter.