Winter roads present plenty of seasonal challenges
November 1, 2010
There is no question that the risk of collisions will begin to rise as soon as the temperatures begin to drop. A tractor-trailer needs 12 times more stopping room on an ice-covered road than it does w...
There is no question that the risk of collisions will begin to rise as soon as the temperatures begin to drop. A tractor-trailer needs 12 times more stopping room on an ice-covered road than it does when travelling on warm and dry pavement. Even a bare highway will be more slippery in cold weather.
The only way for a driver to remain safe in these seasonal conditions is to remain committed to managing speed and space alike.
It is simply a fact that weather conditions can change quite rapidly, especially in the coming weeks. A dry road at the bottom of a mountain may transform into snowy conditions at higher elevations.
Those travelling highways near the Great Lakes may suddenly find visibility obscured by a streamer of snow. Meanwhile, bridges and overpasses will tend to ice up at a moment’s notice.
During my own driving career, I remember picking up equipment in the pouring rain in Hamilton, Ont., only to encounter freezing rain as I approached Highway 400, and then blinding snow once I reached Parry Sound. That trip takes just a few hours!
The challenges of a snow-covered road are not limited to traction, either. A bridge with a posted clearance of 13 feet may offer an opening that is just 12.5-feet high thanks to the layers of snow that accumulate below. The tire ruts that do exist can also compromise control at the steering wheel.
Luckily, it is possible to identify the signs of bad weather ahead. A driver can expect to encounter poor conditions if oncoming traffic is suddenly covered in thick layers of ice and snow. The regular reports on the radio or CB will offer some insight as well.
But the changing conditions are not always as obvious as a layer of snow. Black ice may go unnoticed unless drivers are watching for a wet-looking road surface that is not accompanied by any spray, or the white or grey road surfaces that offer a silent warning of their own.
As important as these road conditions will be, there are other seasonal factors that can have their own impact on highway safety.
Fatigue, for example, will likely become a bigger challenge at this time of year. As the number of daylight hours begins to dwindle, many drivers will begin to suffer the influence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often referred to as the “winter blues.” By some estimates, anywhere from 1.5-9% of adults have this disorder, and they will struggle to get enough sleep, have little energy and may even feel depressed. To compound matters, those who are travelling through bad weather are more likely to experience the “adrenaline fatigue” that can come with a tense drive, while everyone will need to share the road with intimidated drivers who are more likely to make mistakes behind the wheel.
There is a chance for every driver to prepare for the unexpected, however. The beginning of each journey presents the opportunity to clear off lights, windshields, peeper windows and mirrors alike. And personal safety can be protected with a simple emergency kit that includes extra blankets, dry clothes, a tool kit, and antifreeze for the air lines. Something as simple as a candle and some matches can become a life-saving supply of heat if someone is stranded for an extended period of time.
When a facility is equipped with the proper tools, there is even a chance to clear away any of the snow that may be sitting on the roof of a trailer, protecting fellow motorists from the threat of falling debris. And a general awareness of frozen straps will lead drivers to inspect their loads more frequently than usual, since these load securement devices can loosen up as they are exposed to the thawing power of friction. That will protect fellow motorists from another type of falling debris entirely.
Drivers can protect themselves from falls of their own by watching their footing when conducting circle checks, and then taking the time to use a three-point entry every time they climb in and out of the cab. And, of course, they will maintain more control once they pull onto a slick highway if they avoid using driving aids such as engine brakes or cruise control.
A commitment to safe driving is a matter of maintaining control, regardless of the conditions that Mother Nature delivers.
-This month’s expert is Scott Creighton. Scott joined Markel as an advisor in the safety and training services department in 2007. Scott has brought with him more than 20 years of experience as a driver and a safety supervisor including 18 years working for an over-dimensional carrier. Markel Safety and Training Services, a division of Markel Insurance Company of Canada, offers specialized courses, seminars and consulting to fleet owners, safety managers, trainers and drivers. Markel is the country’s largest trucking insurer providing more than 50 years of continuous service to the transportation industry. Send your questions, feedback and comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.To read about more industry hot topics, visit Markel’s website at www.markel.caand click on the Articles & Essays section.