Winter driving can be difficult and stressful—especially for CDL A truck drivers. Annually there are 156,164 crashes and 1,800 fatalities due to snowy and icy conditions. There are a variety of things you can do to make driving in inclement weather less dangerous and difficult. Learn more with our top 10 winter driving tips for truck drivers.
The top 10 safe winter driving tips for truck drivers
1. Pre-Trip Inspections are crucial to your safety!
This is important to do every single time you start a shift—especially when driving in winter weather. Before leaving, make sure you pay extra attention to:
- Check to ensure that all your lights are working properly
- Check brakes
- Pay extra attention to the coolant and antifreeze levels
- Check the wiper blades and windshield washer fluid
- Check your tires and tire chains
“Absolutely familiarize yourself with the assigned equipment before your trip! When bad weather suddenly hits, your eyes need to be on the road and surroundings not searching the switch-panel for the inter-axle lock, heated mirrors, wipers, environmental controls, etc. Investing a few minutes before your trip can assist with preventing incidents or accidents due to distracted behavior.”
Noel Frenzel, ITS driver since 2000
2. Clean ice and snow off mirrors, windows and lights
It is vital that you are able to see out of your windshield and windows and that other cars can see your brake lights in the snow so they can react accordingly. Clear these areas off before you start your run. It can take time, but it’s very important to your safety and the safety of those around you that you don’t skip this step.
3. Brake early for red lights and stop signs
Intersections can be icier than the roads leading to them, so make sure you start braking slowly and earlier than you think you need to. Allowing yourself ample time to stop at intersections is very important, especially if another car were to slide in front of you.
“It’s the most obvious thing, just slow down and really be aware of the road conditions like black ice.”
Bob Sprague, ITS driver since 2005
4. Be careful as you approach bridges
Their surfaces freeze first and thaw last and can be more slippery than the road itself. Drive slowly and carefully over all bridges.
5. Keep in mind the importance of a good following distance
Giving yourself time to stop is always important, but it’s even more important when it comes to driving in snow and ice. A driver’s braking ability becomes severely impaired during wintry conditions; it takes up to 10 times longer to stop when driving on snowy roads. You never know when other drivers are going to slam on their brakes or hit a patch of ice, so make sure you give yourself 15 seconds minimum of following distance to watch for brake lights in front of you, react accordingly and always give yourself an out.
6. Don’t drive in ruts of other vehicles
Along with the following distance, be sure to pay attention to where your wheels are and ensure that you’re not following in the ruts of the drivers in front of you. Their spinning wheels have probably packed the snow and ice, making the conditions more dangerous for you.
“Be aware of your surroundings, take it slow, give yourself space and be sure to take extra supplies like food, water and clothing. Before leaving, tell dispatch and family members which route you are taking and make sure you have emergency reflectors and flares.”
Ronald and Minnie Welch, ITS drivers since 2011 and 2012
7. Accelerate and decelerate gradually
If the pavement is slick or icy, the conditions are perfect for a jackknife accident. To avoid this, be sure you are driving, accelerating and slowing down as carefully and controlled as possible.
8. Slow down
One of the keys to driving safely in inclement weather is a slower speed. At higher speeds, traction is decreased, giving you less control of the vehicle. The solution is simply to slow down, this will increase traction, give you more control and allow you to have a safer experience.
“Pay close attention to all vehicles around you, but especially other vehicles with increased risk potential for spinouts such as bobtail-tractors or pick-up trucks with no weight in the bed or older cars (which are mostly rear-wheel drive). These examples have engine-power to the drive-axles with limited weight at the axles leading to minimal traction and increased potential for spinouts.”
Noel Frenzel, ITS driver since 2000
9. Turn engine brake off
In wet or slippery conditions, your engine brake may cause loss of traction on the drive wheels and cause your truck to slide out of control. Be sure to turn your engine brake off when you’re driving on wet, icy or snow-covered roads or approaching bridges, on-ramps or exit ramps.
10. Practice defensive driving
When operating your vehicle, make sure you take extra precautions in order to avoid being in a preventable accident. This means being aware of your surroundings and the drivers around you. Keep in mind that sometimes this means “letting the driver who is in the wrong have the right of way.”
“Don’t push it if you don’t think it’s safe. Pullover and stop if you feel too uneasy to drive in inclement weather.”
Dean Triplett, ITS Driver since 2017
One of the most important winter driving tips for truck drivers is to remember that you are the captain of your ship and you make all the decisions. At ITS, we expect our professional truck drivers to make the safe decision of when to pull over and stop driving when conditions become too unsafe, and then communicate that decision appropriately with your operations team or customers. Make sure to practice these safe winter driving tips for truck drivers, and be safe out there!