Every day of truck driving can't be full of sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes as a professional truck driver, you have to deliver a load in less than ideal weather conditions. Driving a 48-foot tractor trailer is hard enough on a bright, sunshiney day, but what about those glorious days full of rain, sleet, snow, and fog? What's the best way to drive safely during hazardous weather conditions? Today, I'm going to share some tips on how to drive your tractor-trailer in harsh weather.
Rain is an inconvenience, but it's a fairly manageable weather condition and you'll regularly encounter it as a professional truck driver.
The main thing you need to be cautious of in rain is hydroplaning. It's scary enough in a four-wheel car - imagine ice skating with an 80,000 pound vehicle! Here are some tips for staying safe in the rain:
- Slow down and keep substantial space between your truck and the vehicle in front of you. Remember that whole, "space cushion" lesson from driver's ed when you were 15? It's the amount of space between you and the vehicle in front of you. Well, you should double or even triple your "space cushion" when it's raining. You need extra time to stop when the roads are wet.
- Remember that the beginning of a rainstorm is the most dangerous as traction is severely affected. Over time, gas, oil, and fuel form a thin layer of gunk on the road. As rain falls and mixes with the gunk, the road becomes slick, which can cause your truck to hydroplane if you're not careful. Hydroplaning is when your tires don't actually touch the road - they just skim over the top of the water. It's kind of like water skiing with your vehicle... but it's not nearly as fun as it sounds and can lead to jackknifing.
- Use headlights and taillights and keep spare lights with you just in case.
- Keep tire chains on hand.
Your main focus when dealing with snow is being prepared for the worst-case scenario. No one wants to break down in the middle of a snowstorm, especially if you're not adequately prepared.
Navigating through a snowstorm is relatively straightforward - it's not much different from driving through a rainstorm in that you just need to slow down and be careful not to skid. The real danger presents itself if/when you get stranded in a bank of snow, so you want to do everything you can to avoid that situation in the first place. Here are some tips for remaining safe during a snowstorm:
- Keep tire chains on hand for traction.
- Keep your fuel tank full as water condensation can build up in the fuel line if you allow it to get low.
- Slow down and increase following distance (are you noticing a common theme here?)
- Check your wipers and washer fluid. You don't want your windshield to freeze up or blur on you.
- Carry a spare blanket, warm clothes, and some canned food, just in case you get stranded on the side of the road.
- In the winter, perform an extended pre-trip inspection by checking your wipers, defroster, heater, and tire treads before you take off with a load.
- If you start skidding, don't slam on the brakes! Instead, pump them so you don't jackknife.
- Wear extra socks, long underwear, gloves, a hat, and any other warm clothes when you'll be driving during the winter months. You want to have warm clothes on hand in case of an emergency.
- Speaking of emergencies, it's never a bad idea to keep an emergency kit in your truck. This could include things like non-perishable food, bottled water, a blanket, batteries, a cell phone, a portable tool kit, a flashlight, flares, and a first aid kit.
Ahhh, fog... the demise of truck drivers everywhere. Fog is universally considered the most unsavory and frustrating weather condition for truck drivers to work in due to the very low level of visibility. Here are some tips for staying safe during heavy fog:
- Use your fog lights, low beam headlights, and hazard lights so other vehicles can see you. Do not use your high beams - you don't want to risk blinding oncoming traffic that is already having difficulties seeing through the dense fog.
- Slow down! The decreased visibility makes it difficult to anticipate abrupt turns and curves in the road. Slow down so you don't miss them or drive off the road.
- Clean your lights (headlights, taillights, lower market lights, and turn signals) if you know a heavy batch of fog is coming your way.
- Pick a vehicle in front of you and keep his lights in sight. Watching their lights gives you early warning about curves and changes in the road. Try to keep up with them and watch the way their vehicle moves as a guide for where to drive.
- Turn on your CB so you know how bad the fog is. That way, other drivers can inform you of what to expect further on down the road.
- Make sure you're able to stop your vehicle within the distance you can see. Don't "outdrive" your headlights.
- Use your windshield wipers and defrosters as necessary to maximize visibility.
- Use street reflectors and the right edge of the road as a guide. If you can see the road guidelines, you know you're at least on the road.
- Turn down the radio and listen for traffic you might not necessarily be able to see everything.
- Remember that fog makes the road wet. Be aware of the possibility of hydroplaning (see above).
- Drive slowly and signal turns early. Give other drivers ample time to react.
- Pull over if it's really bad. Better to wait it out than get in an accident because you continued on against your better judgment.
Harsh weather conditions never seem to come at a good time and most of the time they aren't fun to drive in. But a professional truck driver should possess the knowledge and confidence to travel safely regardless of what the weather's doing - rain, snow or fog.
Be aware of your surroundings. Know how your truck moves and what it's doing at all times. A large majority of being safe during hazardous weather conditions revolves around being a defensive driver and knowing how to react to certain situations. You can't avoid weather, so it's best to know how to drive in all kinds of conditions!
Do you have any tips for driving in rain, snow, or fog that you'd like to add? If so, leave them in the comments below!
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