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How to Safely Handle Hazardous Driving Conditions
Driving a semi is dangerous. A life on the road comes with many challenges, but weather conditions pose one of the greatest risks for drivers. Weather changes are extremely unpredictable, and operating a vehicle the size of a truck is a lot of responsibility. High winds, icy roads and low visibility due to hazardous weather conditions are just a few of the challenges drivers face this time of year. Whether you’re going through a windy area or driving down an icy highway, you never really know what’s coming at you. However, if you know what to do, you can stay ready for anything. Many people especially underestimate how dangerous high winds are for truckers. Driving in windy conditions is dangerous for semi trucks due to their bulky and large size, making them more susceptible to crosswinds. Trucks are at a high risk to overturn, and the wind can also unpredictably move the truck. The trailer moving as a result of wind can cause imbalance, and loss of control of the vehicle. If you are heading out this winter and encounter high winds, there are a few ways you can try to maximize safety.
Winds over 60mph are too dangerous and you should definitely not attempt to drive through them. Ideally you want to pull over if the wind speed is 40mph or above. When you're driving through hazardous weather, expect the unexpected. Here's how you can navigate high winds:
- Speed is Most Important
High speeds and high winds do not mix. Semi trucks can unexpectedly overturn, and loss of control can occur. Slower speed ensures you have time and control to adjust, if your trailer is moved around. In the case you do end up losing control or the truck flips, it is less risky to flip at 30mph than it is at a higher speed. No matter how good a driver you are, you can’t outrun wind, so stay alert. Lower speed lessens the impact of the wind on your car, posing less risk.
- Keep Load Size in Mind
You want to have awareness of what you are transporting, and make sure that you know how light your load is. The lighter your load the more risk, so if you are driving empty or have light cargo, make sure you consider the wind speed and possibility of pulling over for safety.
- Look Carefully at Your Surroundings
When you are driving in areas of high wind, you want to make sure you look for any debris or hazards around you, as well as other drivers. Avoid narrow roads or bridges if possible, or exercise caution. Look for signs of any sharp turns or hills, as these can also pose risks. Try to stay away from other cars as much as possible, in the case your trailer turns or is moved as a result of the wind.
- Lower Your Gear
When you are driving in lower gear, the engine can provide more power for those strong gusts of wind. The lower gear reduces the engine revs, which allows for more power to hold fast when the wind gusts are strong.
- Use Your Headlights
You want to be very visible to other cars in dangerous weather conditions. Your hazard lights or headlights should be on when you are facing high winds, in order to alert other drivers and make them aware of your position on the road. Remember that debris can be flying around, so it may be harder to see the vehicles around you and for them to see you. Use low beams to better see the road, so long as there are no oncoming cars of course.
- Beware of Overpasses, Tunnels or Bridges
Much like hurricane season, when it comes to high winds, you want to avoid overpasses or tunnels, because of the wind tunnel effect. While it may seem logical to wait things out in a tunnel when it’s windy, the tunnels usually end up acting like a channel for the wind and can be subject to heavy debris flying your way. Moreover, the narrow way of a tunnel can act as a channel causing an increase in the wind speed. You are encouraged to find an area lower level than the roadway or pull over to the side of the road. Bridges, overpasses and mountain ridges are more prone to winds that can cause your vehicle to lose balance.
Be ready for wind speed to suddenly change, if you are passing these areas, as the speed may pick up.
- Secure Your Cargo
You want to make sure your trailer doors are locked and secured, as well as any cargo that could potentially be moved or start flailing around in the case of strong winds. Not only is it damaging to cargo, but it can become a major distraction and cause of imbalance for the vehicle, if the cargo is not secured properly.
- Learn Tornado Warning Signs
In some areas you may pass, you will need to be aware of potential signs of incoming tornadoes, especially if you do not have access to the weather app or are not keeping up with news in that area. For most cross-border or long distance truckers, you are heading into areas where you may not know the weather patterns well. You want to look for the following tornado warning signs in order to seek shelter:
- A dark sky with a yellow or green tint
- A roar sound similar to a freight train
- Hail and no rain
- A dark cloud of debris
- A sudden dying down of wind or things become very still
Winters also bring a lot of ice and snow in certain areas, creating dangerous conditions for trucks. Black ice accumulates quickly and is not visible, so awareness is key in these conditions. The stopping distance required for a truck increases in winter, which means winter driving requires further safety precautions. Here are your top three driving tips when facing winter roads plagued with ice and snow:
- Know What To Do When Stuck
If you find yourself getting stuck in heavy snow, do not try to spin your wheels, as this may dig you deeper in and damage your vehicle. Choose to move the wheels side to side as a way to push snow away. Keep your acceleration slow.
- Know How to Stop
In order to stop safely on ice or snow covered roads, try quick short pumps onto the brake. This method would mean you have to drive slower overall and remain in control over your vehicle. Stomping on the brakes will cause loss of control if you are driving on top of ice.
- Know How to Correct
If you need to get out of a skid, you would put your transmission in neutral, if you drive automatic. In manual, you would depress the clutch, steer and counter steer rapidly to stay in front of your trailer, and use your driver's mirror to help. If you end up in a jacknife, make sure you are relying on your steering and not brakes or acceleration, to get out.
Do not let anyone pressure you into driving in dangerous conditions. You can exercise judgement and pull over if you do not feel safe to continue. If you can’t find a storm shelter to pull over, then try park with your cab facing into the wind, so that you can prevent blowing over.
Your best asset on the road is yourself, so make sure to exercise judgement while driving. When driving in areas where wind, snow or ice is present, it’s important to take some preauction. You can be prepared for the worst by slowing down and practicing defensive driving. The weather is fickle. Making the right adjustments on the road could save your life!