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12 Trucking Tips to Drive Safer This Winter

Written by Miranda Pennington

I don’t know about where you are, but here in New York, autumn has finally caught up to us. All the trees are racing to turn to yellow and red, and if this year’s anything like the last two, we’ve got some frigid temperature and blustery snowstorms to look forward to.

Many drivers who find themselves in winter conditions forget some basics—they don’t change their driving skills or brush up on maneuvering and skid control. Make sure you’re up-to-date on the preventative safety skills that could save your life or someone else’s.

If you’re still on the road this time of year, here are some important safety suggestions from the experts at Smart-Trucking.com.

1. Slow Down

The speed limit may tell you the legal max, but it can’t read road conditions or understand delays in stop time the way you can. Don’t let your eagerness to finish a trip make you hurry when it’s not safe.

2. Follow Safely

When possible, leave 1/4 mile between you and the vehicle in front of you, and try to give space to the vehicles next to you, too. Remember that if you’re driving with a group, the mistake the front truck makes can impact everyone else.

3. Get Out of the Pack

For that reason alone, try not to drive in the packs traffic tends to organize itself into—your goal should be attaining the maximum distance around your vehicle.

4. Don’t Fixate on Tail Lights

It can be tempting to focus on the lights of the car in front of you when visibility or weather conditions get overwhelming, but if you can see them you’re probably too close!

5. Don’t Stop on the Shoulder

Other cars and trucks in low visibility may not be able to figure out your truck has pulled over or even that it’s stopped, and they could slam into your rear axle before they knew what was happening. Try to get to a truck stop or weigh station—anywhere you can pull fully off the road.

6. Don’t Try to Be a Hero

Even if you pride yourself on always being on schedule or arriving before your deadlines, remember that pushing yourself when the weather is inclement is not worth risking your safety. Balance the pressure you feel coming from dispatches or service rules with concern for your life and others on the road.

7. Don’t Jake Brake

Be especially aware of the risks of employing your jake brake and over-using your footbrake on icy and snowy roads. You may find yourself sliding and spinning out of control, especially when the trailer is empty.

8. Pay Extra Attention to your Circle Check

Make sure all your systems are fully functional—you don’t want the defroster, the heater, the wipers, or the lights (particularly the brake and tail lights) to go down on you in the middle of a scary stretch of road. Make sure everything that has a level is full to capacity. If possible, have extras stored away in case you need to refill mid-drive.

9. Stay Fueled Up

Full fuel tanks mean extra weight on your drive tires, which helps with traction and stability. Make sure your tires have enough pressure for winter driving, as well.

10. Keep Your Lights Clean

Whenever you can stop, make sure to clear off your head and tail lights, particularly if you’re equipped with LED lights. Make sure you’re visible, so other drivers can adjust if they need.

11. Pack an Emergency Kit

Your kit should have necessities for servicing your truck, but also the basics to help you hunker down if necessary: a change of warm clothes, a bottle of water, hand-warmers, first aid kit, batteries, a flashlight, and flares. Also, consider investing in portable chargers for any electronics you carry regularly.

12. Get off the Road

When in doubt, use your common sense and best judgment about when it’s time to get off the road. It may make for a great war story to power through a terrible blizzard and make your delivery dates, but I guarantee people would rather remember the time you arrived a day late, alive and well, than the horrific accident that kept you from arriving at all. Know when to pull off the road. Remember that you’ll be the one ultimately held accountable for whether you drove or parked to wait it out.


About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.