Preparation is key to surviving winter driving season

by Al Goodhall

Winter driving season is upon us. With a few clicks of your computer mouse or a few touches of the screen on your smartphone, you are able to find any number of Web sites with a list of winter driving tips for truckers.

The biggest concern for most drivers, especially those not exposed to winter conditions on a daily basis, is skid prevention and recovery. So I thought I would throw my opinion and experience into the ring on this topic. It’s a good one, for sure.

First, let’s remember that most collisions occur under ideal driving conditions. That is, on dry roads during daylight hours.

Why? Because under those conditions it is quite easy to become complacent and/or distracted. Over 90% of collisions are a result of driver error. The wonderful thing about driving in hazardous conditions is that a driver is focused on the task at hand, fully in the present moment, paying attention to everything that is going on around them and using the defensive driving skills they have acquired to manoeuvre safely down the road. So I won’t get into describing the defensive driving skills we should all be applying 24/7.

So, what’s my formula for skid prevention and skid recovery? First, never allow your rig to ‘break traction’ or ‘lock up.’

Second, maintain a calm and relaxed demeanor at all times. Simple and obvious advice, right? Yes, but it’s not always so easy to put into practice.

Many folks start to feel stress at the thought of driving under winter conditions. That stress starts with the body tensing up, the grip on the wheel becoming tighter, and extra effort made to try and discern every detail when visibility becomes difficult.
You can combat this by being conscious of it. Breathe deeply and relax. Have confidence that by applying all the defensive driving skills you have acquired, you will provide yourself with the time and space you need to navigate the road safely. Navigating any road covered in snow and ice safely is a matter of maintaining traction at all times. That is, never ‘breaking traction’ or ‘locking up’ by hitting the brakes too hard, by making sudden steering manoeuvres, or by accelerating too hard for the conditions at hand. Those conditions vary widely and are impacted further by your gross vehicle weight and how that weight is distributed.

At this point, it’s important to recognize that you can only gain winter driving experience by actually getting out there and doing it. When you know conditions are going to deteriorate, you may want to consider adjusting your trip plan to drive at night.

This sounds counterintuitive, but potential hazards are greatly reduced at night due to the lack of traffic. This can provide you with a great opportunity to hone your winter driving skills.

This in turn can build your confidence and reduce your stress. An added advantage is that it also helps conserve time lost to the poor conditions. The bottom line is that there are a lot less obstacles to negotiate at night.

Scale every load that you pick up and adjust your axles to maximize the weight on your tractor tandems. Making good decisions about braking (including the use of engine retarder brakes), acceleration, and steering is dependent on knowing how the weight of your rig is distributed over its different axle groups.

A couple of winters ago, a buddy and I made a trip from southern Ontario to Edmonton. I was loaded with 30,000 lbs on my drives and 20,000 lbs on my trailer tandems. My buddy’s load was just the opposite. Every time we hit snow cover on the roads he struggled to maintain traction on even slight grades. I had no problem and didn’t experience wheel spin on any part of that trip. This is a great example of how variable factors must be taken into account during the winter months. No situation is the same twice.

Be sure to pull your trailer(s) through every corner; all braking should be done prior to entering a curve. I was travelling on Hwy. 17 in the Kenora, Ont. area a few days after a major storm had moved through. Conditions were sunny, cold and dry.
That was the case until I came around a curve with a steep rock cut on my left and found myself on snow pack. With a light load on, I started slipping to the outside edge of the curve and the guardrail. By staying calm, staying off the brakes, maintaining a light touch on the fuel to keep the drives turning, and by making small steering corrections to keep my rig in line, I was able to make it through the curve…barely. It was an adrenaline rush I wasn’t planning on that day.

Those are just two of the winter driving experiences I carry with me and put to good use every winter. Plan well, and expect the unexpected.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data