Risky Business: Prepare for winter’s wrath

by Rick Geller

As we settle in for the onslaught of another Canadian winter, carriers need to prepare to meet the challenges of adverse road, weather, and traffic conditions to keep both trucks and freight moving safely.

Preparations begin with the adoption of a formal adverse-weather policy for the company. Winter driving increases risk. It is unfair and unwise to ask drivers to make the decision whether or not to drive without providing some guidance and a benchmark outlining the basis upon which you want them to decide.

Without a formal written policy, drivers may feel pressure, real or perceived, to continue driving even though they are reluctant to do so. At the other end of the spectrum are the drivers who over-estimate their ability to safely navigate the conditions they face. They believe they can drive through anything.

In developing an adverse weather policy carriers need to be cognizant of FMCSR §392.14 (Hazardous Conditions; Extreme Caution) and their duty to ensure that their drivers adhere to it.

Under FMCSR §392.14, drivers are required to exercise “extreme caution” operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) when hazardous conditions caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, rain, dust, or smoke, “adversely affect visibility or traction.”
And the onus of safety mandated on the driver doesn’t end there: §392.14 also mandates that the driver reduce speed when such conditions exist and to discontinue operation of the CMV if conditions become “sufficiently dangerous.” Drivers may not resume driving until the CMV can be safely operated.

Regulators have left it to the courts and individual states to define “extreme caution” and “sufficiently dangerous,” however some guidance can be found in the various states’ commercial driver licence manuals. Michigan, for example, requires that drivers reduce their speed to two-thirds of the posted limit in inclement weather.

Against that backdrop, it becomes very difficult for drivers and/or trucking companies to blame crashes on bad weather. To attempt to do so is tantamount to handing the plaintiff attorney a gift.

To supplement your adverse weather policy, carriers are well advised to provide refresher training on an annual basis to all of their drivers. While some may argue that professional drivers know the risks associated with driving in adverse weather conditions, I would point out that rising crash frequency rates suggest otherwise.

So what are some of the things that you may wish to discuss during the training sessions? Consider the following:

    • Have your drivers “map” places of safety before the bad weather hits. This is easily done by marking every pullout or other place of safety on the driver’s GPS. By doing this, drivers can then search for and obtain precise directions to the nearest place of safety if and when the need arises. During a storm, it can be difficult to spot a pullout until you have already passed it. GPS can lead you to it.


    • While some carriers provide skid control training, I would urge you to also provide training on how to recognize the conditions that can lead to a skid. Once the truck is skidding, it may be too late to avoid a crash. More often than not, drivers do not realize just how slippery the road is until the first time that they touch the brakes. Have your drivers pick a safe spot to “test” the traction they have on the road.


    • Ice is more slippery when it is wet. Provide this simple demonstration to illustrate the point. Take a glass or bowl and fill it with water and ice. Let it sit for about for about 15-20 minutes and then invite someone to pick up one of the ice cubes. You will find that they are difficult to grab hold of. In a second bowl, place ice cubes that have just been removed from the freezer. You will find it easy to pick up and it will almost stick to your fingers. Remind drivers of this when they tell you the roads are just wet!


    • Avoid driving with the engine brake on—you need to have even braking applied to all axles or you run the risk of a jack-knife.


    • Avoid using the cruise control in adverse weather—it slows your response time and you lose the “feel” of the road.


    • The new LED lights do not generate the same amount of heat that incandescent bulbs did. This means you have to check your lights more frequently to ensure they are not snow covered.

    • Don’t follow the taillights of the vehicle ahead of you. If you can see them in adverse weather, you’re too close. Also, if the lead driver makes a mistake, you will too.

Perhaps the most serious hazard a driver faces is the unpredictable actions of other motorists. This underscores the need to train drivers to maintain proper speed and space management. Reduce speed to allow time to recognize and respond appropriately to hazards. Increase space in order to increase your options and the chance of avoiding the crash.

Let’s be a spectator to the adverse weather crashes and not a participant!

Rick Geller, CRM, has been providing innovative and cost-effective risk management solutions to the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He serves on the board of directors for both the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI). He is also the incoming chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Fleet Safety Council, as well as an executive committee member for both the Ontario and Toronto Regional Truck Driving Championships.

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