-  Image Courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc

Image Courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc

It will be here sooner than we think — the winter driving season. No matter where your drivers travel, or the amount of experience they have, quickly changing conditions present challenges for all drivers.

A targeted training program can prepare your drivers for whatever Mother Nature has in store.

Instructional considerations

Drivers operating in the northern parts of the country typically deal with snow, ice, and wind. In the southern part of the country, drivers face heavy rain, sleet, and ice.

Tailoring your training to the conditions your drivers typically operate in will provide the best experience.

How specific you get on each training topic will depend on your drivers’ experience. You may want to spend more time with a new driver than a veteran driver. With that said, reviewing defensive driving for adverse winter weather conditions is a must each and every year to ensure all drivers are at the top of their game.

The following are issues that need to be reviewed with all drivers every year.

Vehicle preparation

Being prepared before adverse winter weather strikes can help reduce downtime and ensure driver safety. When it comes to the vehicle, the driver should make sure that:

  • The heater and defroster are working properly;
  • All exhaust system connections are secure;
  • The cooling system is full and there is enough antifreeze;
  • The battery is fully charged;
  • All lights are working properly and clear of snow, ice, and dirt; and
  • Wiper blades press against the windshield hard enough to wipe it clean. There should be plenty of washer fluid (that can be used in cold temperatures) in the reservoir.

Tire chains

In certain areas of the country, tire chains are required to be carried on commercial motor vehicles during the winter driving season and must be used on commercial motor vehicles when operating in adverse winter weather conditions. The driver should:

  • Carry the proper size and number of chains and extra links;
  • Regularly check the chains for broken hooks, worn or broken links, or bent or broken sidechains; and
  • Know how to safely put chains on a vehicle’s tires.

Chains should be snug, but not too tight. They should be regularly checked and retightened when necessary.

Note that tire chain requirements vary from state-to-state. Review the specific requirements for the state(s) in which your drivers travel.

In an emergency

Warning devices, jumper cables, a flashlight, a toolbox, and a first aid kit are supplies the driver should carry in the vehicle.

During the winter months, a snow brush and scraper, a small shovel, and some form of traction devices (chains, sand, etc.) should also be in the vehicle.

The vehicle should be stocked with extra food and water, blankets, medicine (as needed), and proper outerwear (e.g., hat, gloves, boots, heavy jacket).

The number one rule for a driver who is stranded — stay in the vehicle. A stranded driver should put on extra clothing to stay warm and use the food and beverage supply cautiously.

Depending on road and weather conditions, the driver could be stranded for a while.

The driver should only run the vehicle’s engine if certain the exhaust pipe is free of snow. If the vehicle is running, a window should be left open a crack to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Driving tips

The following are a few guidelines drivers should follow when on the road during hazardous winter weather.

  • Check on road conditions before beginning the day, and then throughout the day (when it’s safe to do so).
  • Turn on the vehicle’s low-beam headlights to increase visibility.
  • Slow down. Speed limits are based on dry pavement and good weather conditions, not adverse winter weather conditions.
  • Allow for additional following distance. It takes longer to brake safely on a snow-covered and/or ice-covered road.
  • Do not use cruise control. Even a short tap on the brakes to deactivate the cruise control feature can cause a loss of vehicle control.
  • If it’s too dangerous to continue, pull off in a safe area (truck stop, rest stop, etc.) until conditions improve and it is safe to continue.

Rain. Rain can have an adverse effect on vehicle control as well as driver visibility.

When rain first starts to fall, it mixes with the dirt, oil, and grease that cover the road’s surface, causing the pavement to become slick. This condition can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

When traveling in rain, reduce vehicle speed, increase following distance, and allow for more time to stop.

Visibility is also a concern. The vehicle’s headlights, windshield wipers, and defroster must work properly.

Snow. Snow causes reduced traction and limited visibility. For visibility and vehicle-control purposes:

  • Reduce vehicle speed,
  • Increase following distance,
  • Accelerate slowly and smoothly, and
  • Steer and brake with care.

Falling snow can reduce visibility, and the addition of wind can cause even greater visibility problems. As well as making it harder to see the road, wind-blown snow can obscure signs, road markings, and off ramps.

The use of low beam headlights can increase visibility. High beam headlights must not be used in these conditions, as they reduce visibility.

Ice. An icy road can present even more dangers than a snowy road. A drop in temperature can affect vehicle traction.

One of the most dangerous results of temperature change is the formation of black ice on the road.

Black ice forms when temperatures drop rapidly and any moisture on the road freezes into a smooth, nearly invisible, slippery surface.

Bridges, shaded areas, areas beneath underpasses, the lower side of banked curves, and dips in the road are the most common places for black ice to form.

Sharing the road with snowplows

Because they remove snow and apply sand, salt, or other road treatment, snowplows travel at a slower rate of speed than other vehicles. A safe following distance of at least five to six car lengths behind a snowplow should be maintained.

A driver should never drive next to a snowplow. A plow can shift sideways after hitting a snowpack or drift.

Also, a driver should never drive through white-out conditions caused by swirling snow around a snowplow.

If passing a snowplow is necessary, it should be done in a safe and legal passing area that is clear of snow and ice. Drivers should ensure there is enough clearance to the side, as plows are wider than most vehicles and portions of the plow and blade may not be visible due to blowing snow.

Presentation Tips

Reviewing this topic with all of your drivers is critical for their safety and well-being. Even the most veteran drivers should review this topic each year. Tailoring training to meet the conditions your drivers typically travel in, and your drivers’ level of experience makes instruction meaningful and relevant.