The winter months can be some of the toughest for drivers. Here are some tips for staying safe and efficient during the coldest part of the year. Most importantly, being prepared before and during your trip will help eliminate some of the stress of driving under difficult conditions.
Winter Driving: Before You Start
The pre-trip truck inspection is always key, and it’s even more important when the weather is bad. Make sure your heater and defroster are working well. Your head and taillights should be clear and visible and not covered with snow or ice (you’ll need to keep checking those lights every time you stop). Make sure your tire tread and pressure are where they need to be. Fill up that tank, and do your best to keep it at least halfway full while on the road. This cuts down on condensation and also allows you to run the heat at intervals if you get stuck or stranded.
Before you head out, use all the tools at your disposal to keep track of the weather and road conditions. There are more apps and resources than ever for accurate, up-to-date weather and travel info. Your CB radio is also a great source on the ground updates while you’re driving. Make sure your cell phone is charged and that your charger is on board so you can access those apps and make calls in case of an emergency or delay
Winter Driving: Be Prepared
Experienced drivers say anti-gel diesel treatment is one of the most important things to have on hand during the winter months. Diesel tends to solidify when it gets cold because of wax compounds in the fuel, and anti-gel products keep the fuel flowing and keep you on the road.
Tire chains are also a big one and are required on some routes, particularly when driving at higher elevations. If you’re new to the game, learn how to put them on before you head out rather than winging it in a crunch.
Extra wiper fluid is also a must: it helps melt ice on your windshield—and there are special de-icing formulas available for winter driving. Regular cold weather drivers also recommend keeping a bag of kitty litter on hand. Non-clumping litter can give you traction if you find yourself in a sticky situation.
Make sure you have the right gear in your truck in case you get stuck or need to make a repair or adjustment while traveling in cold or snowy conditions. Winter basics like bungee cords, a flashlight, waterproof gloves, blankets, boots, a warm jacket and a raincoat are a few of the things to add to your list—especially if you haven’t done much cold weather driving.
Winter Driving: On The Road
Driving any vehicle—and a commercial vehicle in particular–in snowy or icy conditions takes practice, patience and skill developed over time. There’s no substitute for experience, but talking to more experienced drivers can help. Here are a few tips for staying safe on the road:
Slow down. This is a no-brainer, but sometimes we’re in a rush to get where we need to be. But no delivery is important enough to risk your life. Even when you’re under pressure, it pays to take it slow and steady under tough conditions. Be sure to leave extra following room between you and the vehicle in front of you and keep a careful eye on taillights ahead. Accelerate gently and brake with extra caution. Defensive driving is more important than ever under tough winter conditions. Most of the general public doesn’t have training in winter driving, and drivers can panic or make bad decisions that can cause trouble for commercial drivers.
Learn to identify and handle black ice. It’s a thin, basically transparent layer of ice that’s hard to spot on the roadway, and if you’re not used to freezing conditions, it can catch you off guard. Watch bridges and exit and entrance ramps as they generally freeze faster and are more prone to black ice than the road.
If you get stuck, stay with your truck. If you’re in heavy snow, it’s easy to get lost if you set out on foot. So bundle up and stay where you are. You can run the engine at intervals to keep warm, but try to take it easy on your fuel supply. And if conditions are bad enough as you’re planning to set out, hold off on your trip. You may not make everyone happy but it’s important to use your judgment—your staffing company or client will understand.
Much of the East Coast has experienced warmer than usual weather so far this winter, but wintry conditions have already been an issue for drivers in lots of places—and who knows what January and February have in store! These are just a few tips to help you stay safe when the weather’s bad. But there’s no substitute for real time training in bad conditions, so try to make your first snow run with an experienced mentor or teacher.