Equipping truckers to navigate harsh winter conditions

Equipping truckers to navigate harsh winter conditions (Photo: Shutterstock)

Though the holiday season rings in a festive spirit and cheer to most Americans, it is work as usual for a section of commercial drivers who haul freight through those weeks. This is a time of year when drivers contend with the frustration of being separated from their families and brave inclement climatic conditions that make driving difficult, and even perilous.

Rain, snow, hail, ice or fog enhance risks to roadway mobility and safety and can significantly increase travel times, create congestion and decrease highway capacity — distressing possibilities for drivers who get paid by the hour.

“When truckers drive over the course of several hours, they can go through a variety of different weather conditions. For example, when temperatures drop or if there’s heavy rain, the propensity to hydroplane or lose some control of the vehicle increases,” said Jason Palmer, the COO of SmartDrive, a transport intelligence platform helping increase fleet performance. “It’s important for drivers to know when they are getting into such situations and start slowing the vehicle down during instances where their visibility or control is affected.”

Palmer explained that in his work, he regularly encounters truckers who go roughly 5 mph over the speed limit — which isn’t considered unusual. But set against dangerous driving conditions like low visibility and slippery surfaces, excess speeding can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles, leading to disastrous consequences. 

“Another key focus is to think of cruise control. Fleets need to have tighter control over the operation of the vehicle, and from the best practices standpoint, it is safer to disengage cruise control so that they can more readily manage the operation of the vehicle,” Palmer said.

Fleet management can incrementally improve driver behavior by repurposing recorded incidents from previous years as coaching tools. “Using videos of collisions or near collisions and explaining how to avoid them can help. The goal is not to show or say who the driver is, but to focus on educating drivers to be more aware of the consequences or impact of such different kinds of situations,” Palmer said.

Video tutorials can help cement best practices and help drivers pay more attention to how fast they drive and the changing conditions around the vehicle. Identifying changing conditions is vital, especially during winter, when weather conditions can tend to deteriorate more rapidly. 

Apart from training drivers, carriers must also have policies that define how their fleets operate during inclement weather. For instance, vehicles that haul freight during winter must be equipped with all-season tires, snow chains, jumper cables, and tactical flashlights. Trucks should also be modernized with advanced braking and advanced traction control systems, which helps vehicles operate better in harsh winters.

Additionally, companies can leverage data to improve driver safety. “Fleets are starting to bring in weather data and messaging drivers to ensure they understand the weather they may be driving into and also the changing conditions they need to anticipate,” Palmer said. “We are starting to see more real-time information being fed to drivers, and this is a trend that will really help drivers make better decisions.”