Winter Driving Tips For Truck Drivers: How to Drive Safely in Cold Weather

December 8, 2021


Winter Driving For Truck Drivers: What To Expect And Tips To Drive Safely

It’s winter again and the roads are harder to navigate. You can’t go as fast as you would want to for the fear of slippery roads. 

That you’re driving a heavy vehicle already makes navigating the traffic tough. But thanks to the season, your job is now twice as hard. Even your truck may develop some faults because of the cold weather. How then do you manage driving your truck in winter with minimal complications?

But not to worry. You won’t be the first to drive a truck in winter. We have been in your shoes and walked miles in it. And from experience, we have gathered for you everything you need to know about truck driving in winter.

driver view from the cockpit of a truck on the snowy road by night

Truck Driving In Winter: What To Expect

As far as truck driving and winter are concerned, there are some things you should expect. Expecting these things puts you in a better position to prevent or control them.

Some things to expect in winter include:

1. Fast-draining Battery

Batteries lose their power in cold weather. At 32 degrees, a healthy battery is 30% weaker. And at 0 degrees, your battery is twice as weak. This explains why older batteries with poor health fail to start work in cold weather because they’re very depleted. 

This doesn’t only happen to batteries. It also affects other electronics, including your mobile phones. That’s why you shouldn't leave your phone for too long in the cold.

You can ensure your battery doesn’t give in when you’re on the road by first making sure all your battery connections are tight and secure. Also, replace your battery if it’s getting old. The average truck battery should not be used for more than 3 years before it is replaced.

2. Weakening of Brakes

While the cold weather doesn’t directly affect your brakes, it still holds some consequences for it.

Driving on wet and slippery roads means that your brakes have to work harder to slow your truck down. This extra hard work translates to greater heat and friction generation, which could lead to the hastened wear of your brake pads. 

Salting is a common practice on snowy roads, as it makes the snow melt faster. While this can help your tires gain much-needed traction, salt could corrode your brakes when it accumulates on them. Make sure you regularly wash your truck thoroughly to prevent this.

3. Deflating Tires

The lower the temperature drops, the more your tires deflate. Every 10 degrees drop in pressure translates to almost 2 air pressure pounds drop in your tire. 

Why do you need to worry about deflated tires? Because deflated tires increase friction. This means your truck draws more fuel to operate. Unnecessary stress is put on your engine. Your truck becomes less responsive, and the tires wear out more quickly.

4. Natural Phenomena

Some other things you need to expect are natural phenomena you have no control over. When faced with these conditions, your best bet is to know how to react appropriately to such situations. In some cases, this might mean pulling over.

  • Fog
  • Haze
  • Black Ice
  • Heavy Rain
  • Heavy Snow

Useful Tips For Driving In Winter

Now that you know what to expect while driving in winter, these are some tips that are sure to keep you safe as you navigate the cold, slippery winter roads.

1. Prepare before you drive

Leave no stone unturned during your preparation. There’s a list of emergency items you need to pack when driving in winter. And you have to prepare for the worst, although we hope you don’t need most of the things you’ll pack. Some of the the items to have ready are:

  • Jumper cables to force your battery to start incase it wouldn’t or someone else’s wouldn’t
  • A high visibility jacket
  • Enough food and water to last you for a day or two.
  • A flashlight with enough batteries
  • Warm blankets for when you need to stop and take a nap
  • De-icer for when your windscreens are covered with ice.
  • A full fuel tank.
  • Chains for your tires on slippery roads

Truck drivers use chains on their tires in order to increase the grip while driving in slippery conditions.

2. Perform pre and post truck Inspections

Inspections help you avoid unpleasant surprises during your trip by helping you discover potential issues before they develop. Some things to inspect include:

  • Battery and all connections
  • Lights: Ensure they are bright enough to penetrate harsh weather conditions, like fog and heavy rain.
  • Fluid levels: Make sure they’re all topped up
  • Defroster
  • Exhaust pipe: check that it hasn’t been clogged with snow.
  • Tires: For wear and tear that could reduce grip on the road

3. Subscribe to Weather Updates

Get the weather updates for where you are and where you’re going. But take it a step further by getting weather updates for the previous day. This is because the road conditions from the weather condition of the previous day may persist into the next one.

Thanks to the internet, you can easily access technology updates. Make them accessible to you.

Always pack your truck with appropriate cold gear. Depending on weather you should try to bring winter jackets, hats gloves and boots to stay warm and safe.

4. Slow Down

Slow down. The worst time to be in a haste is when the weather conditions are not favorable. Driving slowly also helps your truck come to a stop more quickly in emergencies.

5. Ample Spacing

Trucks take over ten seconds to come to a stop on dry roads. But the time almost doubles during wet road conditions. This is why you need to leave as much space around you when driving. If the atmosphere is foggy and you can still see the tail light of the vehicle ahead of you, you’re too close.

Another reason you need to have enough space around you is in case of slippages. If there’s a smaller car around you, you could hit it before you're able to regain control of your truck. But that car may not survive even a nudge from a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds.

6. Drive carefully

When the road is slippery you need to drive as smoothly as you can. This means accelerating and braking lightly, and turning slowly. No sudden actions. And if your truck slips, don’t panic. Instead, slowly remove your feet from all pedals and steer in the direction that the back of your trailer is swaying. 

7. Be extra careful on bridges 

Bridges and elevated structures are more dangerous to navigate in winter because they are often the first to freeze. And to make matters a little more complicated, bridges aren’t usually salted to melt the snow. So, even if it wasn’t freezing before you climbed the bridge, assume the bridge is already frozen and approach with caution.

8. Watch out for black ice

Black ice occurs when the temperature is close to freezing. It is a thin layer of transparent ice that is invisible to the eyes. This low visibility is what makes it very dangerous because you can only look for clues that it’s already formed, but can't actually can’t see the phenomenon. Your tires can’t grip the road on black ice, and it could cause you to lose control of your truck.

Some clues that black ice may have formed ahead of you include:

  • Ice builds up on the top of your windshield, antennae, mirror arms
  • Glossy patches on the road can sometimes be a sign that black ice has formed on those patches.
  • Also, if the spray from the tires from other vehicles around you is relatively low, it could be a sign that the road is beginning to freeze.

9. Don't be afraid to pull over

Slippery Road conditions and heavy loads put truckers at an increased risk for serious injuries from accidents. Always assess road conditions and never be afraid to stop driving if you are unsure if it's safe.

Sometimes, the best way to proceed is to pull over. Call your fleet manager or dispatcher and let them know about the change in plans. No matter how urgent the delivery is, your safety and the safety of your freight is the top priority. And it is better to not drive at all than to drive unsure of what’s ahead of you.

10. Stay In Your Truck

Reduce how often you need to step out of your truck. The steps leading to your truck cab are most likely going to be slippery, and you don’t want to injure yourself from such a fall. So, only leave your truck when you absolutely need to.

But if the need comes that you need to step out of your truck, make sure you’re wearing boots with good grips. Wear a safety vest, and step out slowly and carefully. The safety vest increases your visibility in bad weather conditions. This can come in handy during accidents. 

 Conclusion

The bottom line is that roads can be harder to navigate at this time of the year. Always be careful and remain alert. With the tips we’ve mentioned up there, we’re confident you can safely drive your truck in winter. 

Stay safe and keep your eyes on the road when driving a semi truck in cold weather during the winter months.

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