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Trucking Tips for the Rookie Driver: Driving During the Winter

So, you've just signed on with a new trucking company, and are about to start your first winter driving trip as a fresh-faced rookie driver. Big rig drivers have a tough job.
Rookie Driver

So, you’ve just signed on with a new trucking company, and are about to start your first winter driving trip as a fresh-faced rookie driver. Big rig drivers have a tough job. Not only do they have to be on the road for long stretches of time, but their surrounding environment is continuously changing.

Nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in an area that experiences winter weather; and more than 70 percent of America’s roads are in areas that average at least 5 inches of snow, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.

That’s why it’s important to keep these tips in mind, to ensure your safety, and the safety of fellow drivers on the road.

Winter Trucking Tip 1: Inspect and Prep Your Truck Before Your Trip

Start planning for winter driving by inspecting your truck, starting with the tires. Start the habit of checking the tread depth on your tires every month during the warmer months, so that you know when it’s time to replace them with new ones that have better traction on ice-covered roads or wet pavement during cold weather months. Next, check your tire pressure. Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure level specified by the manufacturer. Under-inflated tires can lead to premature wear, which increases your risk of getting a flat tire on the road.

Clean off any salt and grime from beneath your vehicle’s hood and undercarriage with a high-pressure hose or power washer at least once every few months during winter months or after severe winter weather events. Even if these areas aren’t visible from above ground level, they still require regular cleaning because they tend to accumulate salt and grime that could cause rust damage over time if left untreated, which could lead to an accident down the road.

Winter Trucking Tip 2: Take it Slow, Give Some Extra Space

Slow down! The biggest mistake that many first-time truckers make is driving too fast on slick roads. Slowing down will prevent you from skidding off the road or spinning out of control during slippery conditions.

One of the best ways to avoid a collision in bad winter weather, is by maintaining a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Try not to follow too closely; according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, trucks should maintain a minimum separation distance of three seconds behind large vehicles (including other trucks) traveling 55 mph or more and four seconds behind small vehicles (including passenger cars).

Winter Trucking Tip 3: Keep an Eye Out for Black Ice

Black ice is essentially ice that has formed on the roadways due to rain or snow that has frozen quickly. It looks like wet pavement so it’s easy to miss it until you’re driving onto it. The only way to avoid this dangerous situation is by slowing down as soon as possible when entering a curve or turn in case there’s black ice present.

If you encounter black ice while driving, slow down immediately and keep your speed below 30 mph until it’s safe to resume normal driving speed. Don’t brake suddenly or turn sharply because this could cause your vehicle to slide on top of the ice instead of through it. Remember that black ice usually appears in shady areas where there’s little light or no sunlight at all; avoid these areas whenever possible.

Winter Trucking Tip 4: Be Prepared, Pack a Winter Emergency Kit

Make sure you have plenty of extra windshield fluid, antifreeze, and diesel fuel on hand. In addition to this, consider packing a winter emergency kit that stays in your truck during those months. A winter emergency kit can help keep you safe if you get stuck in the snow, experience mechanical problems with your truck’s engine or transmission system, or if you break down on a remote stretch of highway.

Not to mention, it’ll give you peace of mind should any other unforeseen circumstances occur while you’re out on the road. The kit should include food, water, warm clothes and blankets, emergency flares, jumper cables, a weather radio, and a first aid kit. For a more detailed truck emergency kit checklist read our blog on essential emergency supplies for truckers.

Winter Trucking Tip 5: Be Mindful of Bridges

Bridges are very dangerous to drive on during the winter. Because these structures experience more cold air than regular roads, they tend to freeze faster. Ice can form on bridges even when it’s not present on the rest of the road. This is especially true if there is snow on top of the bridge or if there are bridges with no overpasses around them.

If you have ever driven in an area where there was snow on top of a bridge and ice underneath, then you know how dangerous it can be. As soon as you hit that ice, your wheels will lock up and your truck could easily flip over or roll.

We know some of this information is scary to hear, but it’s important for you to hear it, so you can understand the impact a simple mistake could have on your life, or to other drivers’ lives. With that being said, if you follow these tips, you should be able to navigate through winter without a hitch. Don’t forget to share these tips and other helpful trucking tips with the other 18,900 truck drivers out there!