“As soon as you stop using the air conditioning, that is the time to start winterizing the vehicle. That will change year to year,” said the safety supervisor at Prime Inc., Dennis Davis. Typically, trucking fleets will begin the winterization process in early September.
These precautions come due to weather unpredictability with the fluctuating low temperatures and seasonal changes between September and March. Many truckers work along routes that are susceptible to blizzards, and early preparedness and winterization is the best method of making it through elemental obstacles in order to keep both truck and trucker as safe and operational as possible.
Driver safety training is typically offered by fleets year-round, but is doubly important at the start of the winter season. Still, this winterization process should keep truckers mindful throughout the entirety of winter and early spring.
“It’s probably not a surprise that many of our trucking cases involve crashes on snowy, slippery roads,” explained Levinson and Stefani’s Jay Stefani. “While truckers can’t control the weather, the rules say they must drive with ‘extreme caution’ during hazardous conditions. And, if the weather is really bad, they are required to pull off the road.”
Because of this, Stefani urges passenger drivers to leave plenty of space for heavy-duty trucks in any kind of inclement weather.
“It is a lot harder to maneuver or stop an 80,000-pound tractor trailer when the roads are covered in ice and snow,” he said. “So, when you are driving on the roads and highways this winter, be sure to give those trucks plenty of room–don’t slide into the lane in front of them thinking they can just slow down.”
Truck driver education is vital to a fleet’s overall safety, and drivers should continue working on their own training continuously, especially when it comes to working a block heater or implementing fuel additives to prevent gelling, explained senior vice president of equipment and properties at J.B. Hunt, Nathan Smith.
“Every week, we send messages out to drivers to tell them little tips, “ he said. “We have a maintenance tip every week–we start reminding them that winter is coming and to make sure they have the proper gear in their trucks.”
Drivers should always have the necessary items on hand for any winter-related situations or emergencies, such as blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, water, food, and a fully-charged cell phone battery. A driver should also have fuel additives, jumper cables, working wiper blades, salt and ice melt, an ice scraper, and a lighted extension cord.
“We have a fleet support team of over 150 people who are just dealing with breakdown situations for a driver, 24/7, with the goal of responding to any driver in under a minute and 10 seconds,” Smith added. “We check back with drivers every 30 minutes to make sure they’re in good shape and let them know when help is on the way and give them updates. We don’t want anyone left out in a winter situation without a lifeline.”
Drivers should always have a spare pair of wiper blades, in addition to newly-installed blades, for the winter season, added Day & Ross’ senior director of maintenance, Matt Trites. Wiper blades are often neglected, but keeping these working properly in the wintertime is of the utmost importance.
“If there is the slightest bit of cracking or wear, it is a good idea to change the blades,” he said. “You will need those in the wintertime to remove snow and ice from the windshield. If you can’t see clearly out your windshield, that puts you in a very, very hazardous place.”
Truck batteries also need to be working perfectly and holding a charge in the winter, as batteries often freeze when not fully charged. Additionally, drivers may turn their ignitions multiple times in cold weather to start the engine, which drains the battery.
Tires should also always be in decent condition any time a driver is on icy or snowy roads.
“Tires have to be a good tread depth,” added Trites. “We recommend an aggressive tread with respect to traction–a good traction tire that has a good amount of tread still left on the tire is imperative for traveling in the winter on snowy roads.”
Finally, truckers should make sure their air tanks are drained to rid them of liquid condensation, so they can avoid the condensation turning to ice.
“Yes, it’s a chore, but it is much easier to crawl underneath and drain tanks as opposed to sitting on the side of the road because it froze up,” Trites noted.