WINTER WEATHER DRIVER SAFETY
Many of the motor vehicle crashes that we see on the news or in the courtroom involve tractor-trailers, but the vast majority of winter time crashes occur between passenger cars. For those of us who are not truck drivers, there are many lessons to learn to avoid accidents and to be safe during dangerous weather. Generally speaking, when driving in poor weather, truck drivers put themselves in a position ahead of time to maneuver a big rig around unpredictable drivers who usually have far less experience on winter roads. To do this, commercial drivers are taught to think defensively at all times. Being a defensive driver means that you need to leave a way out when other drivers make mistakes or when a driver notices trouble ahead.
Certainly, we all know that we must slow down on winter roads to prevent needless harm or death, but reducing speed cannot be overstated. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the first rule of winter driver safety is to slow down. When a truck driver is at fault in a winter collision, it is most often because the driver was going too fast even if the crash took place on icy roads. Safe truck drivers compensate for poor traction by slowing down. This includes taking off the cruise control when traveling on wintry roads. Everyone expects that there will be traffic delays during the winter, which means that no one should hesitate to reduce their speed even if it means arriving late for work or if a truck driver is unable to make an important delivery on time. Don’t feel that you’re letting anyone down by not meeting a scheduled appointment. Give yourself extra time when you get on the road in the winter by leaving earlier than usual. Most importantly, use solid judgment when driving during the winter. If the weather is so severe that you feel like you cannot safely operate your vehicle, simply get off the road until traffic conditions improve. This includes if you are too tired from driving in adverse weather to continue to operate your vehicle safely.
Besides slowing down, there are several other steps that professional drivers take to prevent collisions on our roads and protect the safety of others sharing the highway. The second important safety rule for all of us is to keep a safe following distance. It is important to remember that keeping a safe following distance requires more thought than it seems. For most of us, leaving several car lengths of room between our vehicles and the vehicles in front of us seems practical. However, given the size and substantial weight of tractor-trailers, many professional drivers keep up to ¼ of a mile of following distance while traveling on highways. As a rule of thumb, many truck drivers double or triple their following distance and maintain a 10 second following distance on slippery roads. These rules of thumb would serve all of us well when sharing the roads with others. Moreover, during snow showers that limit visibility, if someone is following the tail lights of the vehicle in front of their car, they are simply following too closely. Thus, never follow tail lights becomes part of the safe following distance rule. Furthermore, another part of the safe following distance rule is to never travel in a pack despite how convenient it may seem. Keep in mind that if the leader of a pack of vehicles makes a mistake, the vehicles behind it tend to make the same mistake, which is why we see so many pileups this time of year.
Besides slowing down and keeping a safe following distance, there is a rule concerning the use of brakes. If you need to apply the brakes during winter driving conditions, it is important to remember not become overly confident with anti-lock brakes. As another rule of winter driving safety, all drivers must brake gently to avoid skidding. If the brakes happen to lock, release them to avoid sliding. This also will help to regain steering. If you being to skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral quickly to steer the direction that you need to go. Then, before the rear wheels stop skidding, put the vehicle in drive and gently accelerate in the correct direction. Of course, this technique cannot be used if you are already disobeying the first rule by going far too fast to take an evasive maneuver.
Here a few more safety rules and guideline to consider before you get behind the wheel:
• Don’t stop on the shoulder of the road when visibility is poor
• Keep lights clear of ice and snow
• Pack an roadside emergency kit
• Beware of black ice especially around bridges and overpasses
• Keep your tires properly inflated and in good condition
Remember, a smart and safe driver is prepared for bad weather and uses their best judgment.