Tractor trailer driving tips for winter weather

winter driving

Winter driving tips for heavy duty vehicles

Hitting the road in winter weather is risky for any driver, but particularly for truck drivers pulling trailers over long distances. Winter brings elements like snow, ice, slush and gusting winds — all of which can lead to hazardous driving conditions. Drivers who are dedicated to southern states typically don’t have as much risk, but they should still pay attention to the weather reports and warnings for the route ahead. Those in the north or who run all 48 states have a greater chance of driving in winter conditions. Keep yourself and the equipment safe by following these cold weather driving tips. 

How to stay safe when driving in snow

  1. Look over the truck

Most drivers are required to do an inspection before every trip, and winter driving makes this even more important. Before you leave, make sure the vehicle will be reliable in the conditions you may face. Keep in mind:

  • Tires need sufficient tread for driving on snow, slush and ice. Replace or repair any questionable tires.  
  • Wiper blades wear down over time, and cold temperatures and ice are especially hard on them. Make sure they’re in good working condition and replace if necessary.
  • Washer fluid must be rated for the temperatures you’re likely to encounter. Otherwise, more ice will form on the windshield and decrease visibility.
  • Lights need to be working well so you can see what’s ahead and so other motorists can see you in wintery conditions.

If any issues are found, it’s recommended that you get them repaired before driving. Taking the time to ensure everything is functioning properly can help you avoid emergency situations. It’s also a good idea to check the truck and trailer periodically during the trip. Packed ice should be removed from the tire flaps when possible so it won’t break off and cause damage to other vehicles or your equipment.  

  1. Plan your route carefully

Though your origin and destination are determined based on the job you’re performing, it’s possible that taking an alternate route can give you better driving conditions. Look into the paths available and determine the best and safest way to go. Once you’ve established the roads you’re going to take, make sure you know where gas stations are located and plan stops in advance so you can keep the tank as full as possible throughout the trip.

  1.  Bring the right supplies  

Make sure you have the proper items for both the current weather conditions as well as the weather you may encounter. Here are some items to bring:

  • Winter clothes including a coat, gloves and a hat
  • Snow shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • A few gallons of a fuel treatment product to keep diesel fuel from gelling
  • Flashlight
  • Blankets
  • Food and water
  • Salt
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Tire chains

Note: Cat litter may be preferred to salt. If you’re stuck in snow or ice, put some down for traction. It will sit on top, unlike salt which can melt and create a slicker surface.

  1.  Adjust your speed   

Most winter accidents happen because people are going too fast for the conditions or aren’t prepared for how the vehicle will react on different terrains. Any sudden changes in speed can create a dangerous situation when driving in snow or on ice, so take your time. Keep in mind that stopping or slowing takes longer while driving in winter weather and that hydroplaning is a greater risk. Double or triple the gap you would normally use so you can keep at least a 10-second following distance behind other drivers.

  1. Know the best way to brake

No matter how careful you are, it’s possible to lose control in icy conditions. If this happens, you’ll want to be prepared to stop as fast as possible. If your truck is equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), press and hold the brake down as far as possible. The ABS will keep the wheels from locking, and you’ll be able to steer the vehicle to safety. If you don’t have ABS and you need to stop quickly, lightly pump the brakes to avoid locking the wheels. If your brakes do lock, release them to keep from sliding.

If you begin to skid, take your foot off the gas and quickly shift to neutral. Steer in the direction that you want the vehicle to go in. Before the rear wheels stop skidding, shift back into drive and gently accelerate.

  1. Use your lights and turn signals

Turn on your headlights in poor visibility and always use the signals on your vehicle. Give extra warning for lane changes and be predictable. Allow for 4-5 blinks of the turn signal before moving over.

  1. Be on the lookout for ice

Due to the potential for icy conditions, driving is riskiest between 22 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. When driving in temperatures within this range, you’ll need to take extra precaution on bridges and overpasses — they often freeze first — and know how to spot black ice.

Black ice is tough to see because it often only looks like wet asphalt, but it’s incredibly dangerous. If ice builds up on areas such as mirror arms or the truck’s antenna, it’s possible black ice is on the road. Slow your speed and avoid making any sudden lane changes or turns.

  1. Take caution if driving through mountains

Driving in the mountains can be severe and unpredictable with strong wind gusts, winding roads that lack a shoulder and avalanche zones. Maintain a slow but steady speed when possible so you can avoid following another vehicle too closely. Watch for signs that indicate closed roads or roads that require tire chains. 

  1. Survey your surroundings

Use your best judgement and monitor weather reports, warnings and road conditions. If the weather seems to be worsening, look for places to pull off safely. Don’t assume that you’re heading into treated or plowed roadways — use what you’re currently experiencing to make a decision about whether you should continue driving.

  1. Know what to do in case of a breakdown

Roadside breakdowns aren’t ideal in any condition, but they can be particularly dangerous in winter weather. If you’re stuck on the side of the road, take these precautions:

  • Call 911 if temperatures are below freezing, then call for emergency roadside assistance
  • Run the engine in small time intervals (10-15 minutes each hour is best)
  • Use the blankets and extra clothing you brought with you to keep warm

While it may be tempting to keep the engine and heat running, you’ll want to be sure there’s enough fuel to get you out when the vehicle is fixed.

Keep your trucks ready for the road

FleetNet America® exists to make sure your equipment is operating correctly — and we’re there when problems occur en route. If one of your trucks breaks down on the side of the road, we can provide emergency roadside assistance. Our service providers are equipped to help anywhere in the country in any condition. Call us today at 855-836-3912 to see how we can assist with your fleet.