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Trucking In The Mountains: Tips For Safety And Ease

Experience is everything. When you’re a trucker, you run into rough terrain and even more challenging conditions every day. Experience is the key to dealing with these situations when they arise. Mountain driving is one of the toughest terrain a trucker could cover, especially in difficult weather conditions. But if you've got the right tool for the job, getting safely through the toughest terrain isn't hard at all. There are a few essential tips all truckers can benefit from, which can help keep you safe and prepared for mountain driving all year long. 

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Avoid Overheating Your Brakes

When you are traveling through the mountains, there are usually going to be areas where gravity will be pushing your truck towards speeding up, and you will need to be mindful of keeping in control but also protecting your brakes. Don’t just rely on just your engine brakes, rather adjust your driving in order to stay safe. Firstly, follow the speed limits, as there is a good reason mountain areas have lower speed limits for trucks.

Heavy, steady pressure can lead to overheating of brakes, so you want to use light, steady brake pressure. Your brakes can overheat from being used too much, and this can become hazardous not only for reduced performance but also potential risk of tire fires. Brakes which overheat are not generating enough friction to slow a semi down, so you may end up with reduced braking ability. Ideally, you want to use your Jake Brake when going down a steep grade. You will want to slow down to where a Jake Brake can hold consistency in speed, without needing consistent brake application.

Prepare For The Weather

No matter which season of year you may be driving in, mountain weather can be unpredictable and may require careful consideration. The altitudes of mountain areas usually make them colder, so you may encounter snow, ice or conditions which you would not find on highway roads.  Check the weather the day of your route, and be prepared for changes in weather. If chain signs are around, then put on your chains and do not wait until it’s too late. You also want to have a full tank as you head into these areas, because a gas station may be further away.

Keep Your Grade In Mind

You will want to look for signs which have the grade posted on them, to understand what type of steep area you are dealing with. The signs will also allow you to know which speed to maintain, to descend down the mountain slowly and safely. However, your load weight also affects your ability to maintain speed, so consider your cargo and any traction conditions you have to battle with as well, when adjusting speed and gear. However, you will want to maintain your speed steady, even when near the bottom, as there may be curves unexpectedly or ice left over, so do not let go of control and assume you are safe as you near the bottom.

Word of Advice: If you find yourself losing control at any point, use a runaway truck ramp. These areas are designed in the case a truck starts to lose control, so use them when needed.

When you descend, you will usually use a lower gear than the one used to climb the mountain, and the gear you use has to take into account the weight of your truck and the grade. Downshift before a descent, rather than during, as this can cause trouble and overheat brakes.

Give Yourself Space

You do not want to keep too close to traffic or other cars, as there is a risk factor in going too close in these conditions. You can never predict how the vehicles in front of you may react, or when you may need to adjust speed and direction. Other trucks may jackknife or lose control, so you can’t assume the other drivers know how to handle mountain driving. Always give yourself space and time to fix any potential issues or challenges which arise. 

Know How To Navigate Twists and Turns

When going around corners, bump your Jake into second position rather than high. You may also want to turn on your hazard lights, so that other vehicles and trucks know and give you the space and patience needed for you to descend safely. Part of your planning is to look into any areas where any curves may be present down a descent, so you can prepare and adjust speed. If you find yourself losing control, look for gravel on the shoulder and go towards that, as gravel can help you regain some of that control.

Don't Forget To Prepare For Uphill Driving 

While downhill driving is hazardous; when you are hauling uphill, there is also added risk to your vehicle and you, so it is important to keep in mind that a lot of mountain driving will involve planning. When you are at the bottom of a steep hill you need to climb, there are a few added tips that will ensure safety for you.

  • Protect Your Engine: You want to turn on the engine fan as you approach a steep uphill road and watch your temperature gauge carefully, so you can stop or adjust in time.
  • Drive Slow: While driving slow protects you downhill from losing control, when you are heading up a hill, you want to go slow to avoid overheating your engine especially. To avoid spinning the wheels, gradually hit the gas and don’t give too much.
  • Adjust For Traction: You will want to engage your drive wheels if traction is poor, and go a little towards the right to make your own tracks rather than follow the ones ahead, in order to prevent sliding.

Handling the toughest terrain isn't easy, and it doesn't come with a manual. But, if you've got the right tool for the job, getting safely through the difficult terrain isn't hard at all. The best way to get through a tough mountain drive is to have the proper equipment, be prepared and have a plan in mind. If you know how to keep yourself safe and ready, it can be easy and safer for you, no matter the road you are on.