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Winter Driving Tips for Truckers

A busy, snow-covered freeway

Top 10 winter driving tips for truck drivers

The winter months can be brutal for many, and winter driving can be difficult and stressful—especially for CDL A semi-truck drivers. Annually there are 156,164 crashes and 1,800 fatalities due to snowy and icy road conditions. Considering these statistics, it's crucial to prioritize safety. There are a variety of things you can do to make driving in inclement weather less dangerous and difficult. Here are some of our winter driving safety tips to keep in mind.

1. Pre-trip inspections are crucial to your safety!

A pre-trip inspection is important to do every single time you start a shift—especially when driving in winter weather and icy roads. Before leaving, make sure you pay extra attention and:

  • Check to ensure that all your lights are working properly
  • Check brakes
  • Pay extra attention to the coolant and antifreeze levels
  • Check the windshield wipers and windshield washer fluid
  • Check your tires, tire pressure, and tire chains
  • Check the National Weather Service
  • Check to see if you have an ice scraper

Absolutely familiarize yourself with the assigned equipment before your trip! When bad weather and winter weather conditions suddenly hit, your eyes need to be on the road and surroundings—not searching the switch-panel or 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, 20+ year ITS Driver (with more than 2.5 million accident-free miles)
Take your time and do it right. Make sure your chains are on tight and properly with two bungees. If you feel like you're going too fast in the snow, you are. If you feel like you want to go faster, don't. Keep that level of drive feel. Stay hydrated.
– Wills Stuke, ITS Driver since 2013

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. Additionally, other cars must be able to 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.

Know before you go! Check the weather forecast for the route you will be taking. Perform a thorough pre-trip inspection to include checking your wiper blades, washer fluid, and the defroster. Turn the unexpected into the expected!
– Andrew Siefert, ITS Transportation Safety and Compliance Manager since 2015

3. Brake early for red lights and stop signs

Cold weather and wet roads can make intersections icier than the roads leading to them. Therefore, make sure to start braking slowly and earlier than you think you need to. Allowing yourself ample time to stop at intersections is very important. This is especially crucial if another car were to slide on winter roads in front of you.

It’s the most obvious safety tip, just slow down and really be aware of winter road conditions like black ice.
– Bob Sprague, ITS Driver since 2005

4. Be careful as you approach bridges

In winter driving conditions, bridge surfaces freeze first, thaw last, and can be more slippery than the road itself. Don't make any sudden moves on an icy bridge, such as braking, changing lanes, or accelerating, as this could cause your vehicle to slip, slide, and spin. Drive slowly and carefully over all bridges.

Take it slow!
– James Ybarra, ITS Driver since 2018

5. Keep in mind the importance of a good following distance

Allowing time to pause is crucial, especially while driving in snowy or icy conditions. 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 black ice. Make sure you give yourself 15 seconds minimum of following distance to watch for taillights in front of you. React accordingly and always give yourself an out.

6. Don’t drive in ruts of other vehicles

Along with maintaining the appropriate following distance, pay attention to where your wheels are positioned. Ensure that you're not following the ruts of the drivers in front of you for better control and safety. Their spinning wheels have probably packed the snow and ice, making the conditions more dangerous for you.

7. Accelerate and decelerate gradually

If the pavement is slick or icy, the winter 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. Additionally, ensure extra caution by maintaining a safe and consistent speed to further reduce the risk of accidents in these challenging road conditions.

Following distance and eye lead-time is your best friend when traveling in inclement weather! As we know, a fully loaded truck and trailer in good weather conditions takes roughly 1.5 football fields to stop. Slow down, triple your normal following distance, and look into your future by a minimum of 15-seconds.
– Andrew Siefert, ITS Transportation Safety and Compliance Manager since 2015

8. Slow down

One of the keys to safe driving in inclement weather is a slower speed. At higher speeds, traction is decreased, giving you less control of the vehicle. Simply slow down to increase traction, gain control, and enhance safety.

When driving in winter conditions, your pre-trips are more important than ever. Check your tires, chains, bungees and make sure you have emergency supplies.
– Joe O’Brien, ITS Driver since 2014

9. Turn engine brake off

In wet or slippery conditions, your engine brake may lead to a loss of traction on the drive wheels. This can result in your truck sliding out of control.

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. Pull over and stop if you feel too uneasy to drive in inclement weather or on dangerous roads.
– 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. You make all the decisions regarding your safety and the safety of others on the road. At ITS Logistics, we expect our professional truck drivers to make the safe decision of when to pull over and stop driving. This is especially important when conditions become too unsafe in a winter storm. It's essential to 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!

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