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Keep your focus: Adverse driving conditions exist year-round

Now that winter has long since passed, it's easy to relax and think adverse driving conditions are behind us, even if it's just for the next few months.

Jim McMillan

Jim McMillan

Now that winter has long since passed, it’s easy to relax and think adverse driving conditions are behind us, even if it’s just for the next few months.

But professional truck drivers who do so should beware – just because the snow and ice has melted away doesn’t mean you should relax your focus. The spring and summer months present their own unique range of potentially risky situations.

Remember, the key to avoiding on-road mishaps is to spot potentially dangerous situations before they get beyond your control.

Hazard recognition is key

A hazard is any road condition that presents a potential danger along your route. Potential hazards can include weather as well as other road users, such as other drivers, cyclists, people using small motorized wheelchairs or scooters and pedestrians.

Never underestimate the risk other road users can create. That elderly woman on the scooter just may not hear the warning beep of an intersection alert system, or she may not know the light is about to turn red. And what about that busy Mom holding hands with one kid and trying to keep the other little one from riding his tricycle off the sidewalk into traffic? Keep a sharp eye on your mirrors for pedestrians – they multiply in warmer weather. And don’t forget, those quiet backstreets near the yard you relied on to make your winter deliveries may now be crowded with teenagers on skateboards.

Once on the highway, remember that the spring months can bring heavy rain. Your tires can hydroplane, as their grooves struggle to accommodate additional moisture. Avoid this situation completely by checking for weather conditions along your route before you leave, and check again periodically along the way. And don’t just rely on weather reports – other drivers travelling the same route are an invaluable source of updated information about potential trouble spots ahead.

Summer also presents its own unique hazards, so don’t think you’re off the hook just because the sun is shining and the temperatures are warm.

With more families taking road trips, once peacefully empty highways often become traffic-heavy danger zones. Add seemingly endless highway renovations and narrowed lanes, and your hoped-for uneventful trip down a quiet highway can suddenly become a nerve-jangling obstacle course.

Keep your eyes open for traffic building up, even if it’s happening gradually. Most importantly, watch your speed and make sure there’s always plenty of space around you, especially in front. Sudden braking is a recipe for disaster any time of year.

Finally, remember that summer roads aren’t always dry. Even in sunny weather, a combination of atmospheric conditions can create roads as slick as black ice.

Take, for instance, a section of highway shaded by a stand of trees. You may not be able to see it, but extreme heat can pull the oil in asphalt to the surface of the road, while extreme humidity can form a fine layer of water on top of that oil.

It’s all about attitude

So you’re a professional driver and you’ve got a million miles under your belt. You’ve seen it all, right? Well, that may be true, but there’s at least one hazard you may not be aware of. That’s your attitude.

That’s right, even the best driver, the one who hasn’t had a single accident in 40 years of driving, can head home one day, lose control at a foggy intersection and drive right into the side of a house.

Don’t think this can’t happen to you. More than a few otherwise stellar careers – as well as the lives of innocent bystanders – have ended in tragedy because of driver overconfidence.

Know your limits. If you’re too tired to be alert to your surroundings, get off the road. And keep in mind that, as you age, your limits change. The guy who was able to drive 12 hours straight a generation ago isn’t necessarily able to do the same thing now that he’s 60. Respect your limits and pay attention to changes to your limits as you age.

Managing adverse driving conditions involves much more than simply reacting to situations once they present themselves. It’s about being able to anticipate dangerous situations before it’s too late. n

– This month’s contributing expert is Markel Insurance Company of Canada’s senior advisor for safety and training services Jim McMillan. A third generation trucker, Jim has over 40 years of experience in the trucking industry, with 20 years in transport training as a driving instructor, training school manager and educational director. Markel Safety & Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers.

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