On-road Editor: Are you a man (or woman) for all seasons?

by Harry Rudolfs

TORONTO, Ont. – Rick Talevi, a friend who worked with me at Canada Bread years ago, used to love winter driving. Every autumn he’d book off his city route and take any highway run that came available. He’d especially relish the stormy days when the senior highway drivers would call in sick. “Come on,” he’d taunt the weather gods before getting in his cab, “take your best shot.”

Most of us don’t enjoy snowstorms as much, but we all have to drive in them once in a while. So the first thing is to make sure your mechanical items are in good shape.

You’ll need good tires, good batteries and good wipers. Carry a fold-up shovel, a couple of bags of salt and keep your fuel topped up. And have some fuel conditioner and a spare jug of windshield washer fluid on hand.

You’ll stay warmer on a frigid day if you top up the radiator with glycol. Should you get stranded for any length of time, it’s good to carry some water and a bit of food. And a thermal sleeping bag can save your life if all systems shut down.

Obviously you should drain your air tanks daily, especially in the winter. And winter is the best excuse to check your slack adjusters. Chock your wheels and work with another driver during the pre-trip inspection. You deserve every advantage so you can get home safely. Needless to say, a set of brakes out of adjustment can ruin your whole day.

Whiteouts are my big bugbear. I’ll never get used to them, although I’ve gotten better at sensing when a wheel drops off the edge of the pavement. Greg Manchester told me about the diamond posts on the 401 (he’s been running the Toronto-Montreal corridor for about two decades).

“You might not be able to see the road but you can still see the diamond markers that the plows use for orientation. They sit about two feet off the shoulder and if you use them as a guide you can figure out pretty closely where you should be in your lane.”

Generally, it’s not safe to stop on the highway. And I stay away from highway rest areas because they fill up with trucks and I hate getting blocked in. As the weather deteriorates I find myself running slower but try to keep going at least 60 km/h unless visibility gets real bad, then I’ll drop another gear.

And get off the cell phones, shut off the cruise control and concentrate on driving! I’m afraid we’re cultivating a whole generation of lazy, undisciplined drivers who know little about the physical forces operating on a commercial vehicle.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend both truck skid schools in Canada: the now-defunct Markel skid pad in Centralia, Ont., and the Canadian Centre for Decision Driving at a drag strip in Grand Bend, Ont.

Both courses supplied training in emergency crash avoidance and jackknife recovery techniques. This kind of training is important because one never gets to practice this kind of thing (except maybe in a simulator, and it’s not quite the same).

Basically, the method is to throw in the clutch, look for a way out and steer like hell.

Since most tractors and trailers are now equipped with ABS, you won’t have to worry about stab or threshold braking, since your brakes will probably be fully applied and pulsing.

But ABS isn’t a panacea for avoiding wrecks. It may keep your truck and trailer straight but it won’t necessarily decrease stopping distance.

“We teach them how to steer and how to use their eyes,” said Gus Rahim, president of CCDD.

Ramps are often a nightmare for trucks – the most likely place for a rollover. One technique that I learned at CCDD can be applied if you enter an icy ramp too fast.

It involves taking quick, sharp cuts at the wheel in the direction of the turn, and immediately feeding the steering wheel back and repeating the process.

This allows the plies on the steering tires to open up and gives a little more grip. It actually does work.

The fellow who taught me how to double clutch is Ken Hellowell. At 74 he’s still going strong, the owner of Protran, a consulting agency where he employs two driver trainers.

But in 1956 he was driving for Smith Transport. He offered me the following advice on how not to fall on your ass.

“I stopped my truck somewhere around Ivy Lea, Ont. and got out,” he said. “Next thing you know, I was flat on my backside looking at the stars. I didn’t realize the road was glare ice. Then I learned to look in my mirrors at the oncoming car headlights. If the road was shiny, I’d be careful when I stepped down.”

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