The Cold Winds Are Coming, But Is Your Fleet Ready?
November 1, 2009
As the leaves change their colours and temperatures begin to drop, experienced truck drivers begin to shift their thoughts to the most challenging season of all. Yes, it will not be long before today'...
As the leaves change their colours and temperatures begin to drop, experienced truck drivers begin to shift their thoughts to the most challenging season of all. Yes, it will not be long before today’s dry pavement is covered in snow and ice.
While the realities of winter are impossible to escape, there are steps that fleets and drivers can take to address the threats that accompany the onset of colder weather.
Have your equipment thoroughly checked and prepared for winter -this includes tire tread, the braking system, batteries, and coolant strength, among others.
There should be little surprise that slicker surfaces can have a dramatic impact on a vehicle’s handling characteristics; we must be ready for quickly changing conditions. A tractor-trailer that is travelling 100 km/h may stop within approximately 600 feet on a dry road, but the distance can be double that amount when travelling on snow. Add black ice into the mix, and the stopping distance can be three times as long.
Of course, drivers of every sort need to be extra vigilant in these conditions, and that will contribute to the levels of stress and anxiety. Fatigue management practices such as regular sleep, frequent breaks, and trip planning are much more important.
A commitment to the principles of defensive driving will also help to ensure that speeds are adjusted when heading into any intersections, ramps or bends in the highway with reduced visibility and traction.
Trip planning initiatives play their own role in ensuring that changes in the weather do not come as a complete surprise. Drivers who check their routes will be able to identify areas such as mountain passes that are more prone to bad weather, and further warnings can be collected by monitoring forecasts or even speaking with drivers who have recently passed through the same areas. Know where your safe havens are located and always try to leave yourself a way out.
When they encounter the deepest snow, drivers will also need to know about a fleet’s policies and procedures surrounding the use of snow chains. Some fleets simply ask their personnel to pull off the road when they see a warning to “chain up,” but those who use the chains will require training in the way the devices wrap around tires and clamp into place.
Even when they are locked in position, chained tires are also accompanied by reduced vehicle speeds, such as limits of 35 km/h in deep snow and 15 km/h when the snow begins to melt. Familiarize yourself with the snow-chain regulations for the jurisdictions in which you operate.
The simple addition of a snow brush, shovel and ice scraper will help to ensure that circle checks can be properly conducted.
Drivers may need to clear ice and snow away from LED lights, since these bulbs do not heat up as much as their incandescent counterparts. The build-up of ice and snow may make it difficult to properly inspect your vehicle, and may affect your gross weight. You may then have to adjust your payload accordingly.
Other low-tech supplies can make the difference between being stranded and continuing a trip. Some additional washer fluid and wiper blades, for example, will ensure that the view of the road is as clear as possible.
A bag of kitty litter can provide some welcome traction in a slick parking lot, and it will be easier to carry and handle than a bag of salt or sand.
Even the choice of fuel can lead to a stranded vehicle. The long-haul drivers who fill their saddle tanks while driving through the southern US could end up with some of the summer diesel fuel that is more prone to waxing when it is exposed to freezing temperatures.
Moisture will present a challenge of its own. Those who allow fuel levels to drop too low will face struggles around the condensation that forms in the empty space of your saddle tanks.
The air brake system needs to be dry in order to perform properly. The system can be protected by draining air tanks at every opportunity, keeping air dryers in good repair, and topping up the airline antifreeze that is fed through any automatic injectors.
So let the cold winds blow. With some extra caution, common sense and a handful of supplies, professional drivers will be safely prepared for the days ahead.
-This month’s contributing expert is Markel Safety and Training Services trainer Rob Spencer. Coming from a family of truck drivers, Rob grew up with trucking and has more than 10 years as both a driver and a trainer. He has now been sharing this expertise as a Markel trainer for four years. Markel Safety and Training Services offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to email@example.com.
To read about more industry hot topics, visit Markel’s Web site at www.markel.caand click on the Articles & Essays section.
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