Winter Driving, Inclement Weather and Adverse Conditions
No matter how much we hate it, winter is inevitable. The time to begin reviewing our driving techniques and preparing ourselves for the changes that we will need to make in response to the adverse conditions is before it gets here. The first thing to remember is that others don’t prepare! Every year, the average driver must slide through at least one traffic light or stop sign before he remembers that it is necessary to slow down and begin stopping well in advance of the intersection. If you are not prepared, they will slide into your path and another collision will go into the books. Don’t let others control your safe driving record.
Reduce your speed and be prepared to stop at intersections, even if you have the right of way. Watch for approaching traffic, evaluate their speed, and then exercise your professionalism by stopping or slowing to avoid them. Do not swerve in the direction of their travel. If you do, a collision will become inevitable. Instead, maintain your lane, or if safe to do so, swerve so that you will be where they have been-- not where they are going.
Dry Roads and Good Conditions
Dry roads and good conditions are not a problem, right? Wrong! Some studies have shown that more winter collisions occur on good roads than on the snow and ice. Why? There are a couple of reasons. First, drivers who have been driving "on the edge of their seat" on bad roads develop fatigue more rapidly. When they hit the good roads, they relax and are not as alert to dangers.
The second problem with dry roads is aggressive driving. Drivers often try to make up lost time when they hit the good roads. This results in speeding and aggressive driving. While this is dangerous at any time, it is especially dangerous when tired or stressed drivers are involved. Slow down and maintain your professionalism. If you are tired, even if you have time left to drive, pull over and rest until it is safe to continue. Winter driving presents extra risks while you are on the road. However, by taking a little extra time, care, and skill we can all survive and enjoy the arrival of spring.
Adverse driving conditions are not limited to traction. Blowing snow or fog can create "whiteout" conditions that obstruct your ability to see. As a rule of thumb, if you cannot see at least 7 seconds ahead of your vehicle, slow down to whatever speed is necessary to adjust. If the speed reduction causes you to become a hazard to people behind you, find a safe place and park until the conditions improve.
Often times it is difficult to evaluate the visibility ahead. Thick fog can appear to be the same as a long, attenuated stretch of fog. Watch for other traffic and if their taillights disappear, slow down! Likewise, if approaching traffic suddenly appears out of the fog or snow, slow down! If there is any doubt or concern in your mind, slow down! Waiting to slow until after you have entered the area of reduced visibility is a formula for disaster. When entering an area of reduced visibility, make sure that your lights are on and that your 4-way flashers are activated. Do not use high beams since the reflected light will make it harder to see.
Snow, ice, and rain all affect your ability to control and, most importantly, stop your vehicle. When traction is reduced, SLOW DOWN. The National Safety Council and the CDL manual recommend a 25%-30% speed reduction for wet roads, 50% for snowy conditions, and reducing your speed to a crawl on icy conditions. Ultimately, if you feel that it is unsafe to continue, find a safe location and park your truck until the conditions improve. This is not only good sense, but it is the law as well. No freight schedule or load is worth your life of the lives of others.
- Adjust speed to conditions.
- As darkness falls, reduce speed by at least 5 – 10 mph.
- In wet conditions (rain, mist, melting snow, etc), reduce speed at least 5 – 10 mph. Heavy rain or standing water may require much greater speed reductions.
- In winter weather (temperature below 40° F), reduce speed at least 5 – 10 mph. As the temperature approaches freezing, reduce speeds even further and watch for signs of ice formation. Although black ice is one of the worst driving conditions, it is predictable. Good drivers respond to the potential and slow before encountering the areas of reduced traction. Remember, bridges and overpasses freeze before the rest of the highway.
- Recognize that hazards may be present beyond vision barriers such as hills, curves, road markers and terrain features that obstruct vision. To compensate, reduce speed at least 5 – 10 mph.
- With all four conditions present, you should be travelling at least 20 – 40 mph slower than ideal conditions, putting your maximum safe rate of speed at 25 – 45 mph.
- Be aware of black ice conditions during winter driving, particularly at early evening, at dusk, on overpasses and bridges, while exiting from underpasses and tunnels and especially when rounding highway curves or cresting hills.