Implementing sound fleet safety procedures geared towards operator awareness are essential in reducing driving risks. Paying attention to your surroundings especially during inclement weather conditions will reduce your exposure to avoidable accidents and property damage.
By Chuck Ashman

Driving a commercial motor vehicle during the often-extreme driving conditions of winter presents many challenges for the professional truck driver. Many serious trucking crashes occur during the winter driving months because drivers have not planned ahead for the possibility of extreme weather conditions. Obtaining proper rest, monitoring road and weather conditions, adjusting the speed of the truck as weather conditions worsen, and ensuring properly maintained equipment are key, essential elements for a commercial driver to remain accident- and injury-free this winter.

Professional drivers must make every attempt to stay informed of weather conditions that they are heading into by checking weather reports before beginning a trip and periodically throughout the day. National radio and television reports such as the weather channel can provide the latest updates regarding winter storm warnings and advisories across the country, which allow driver to adjust his trip routes and to plan travel times to safely complete the trip even if weather conditions should cause delays.

Proper Rest
Ensuring that a driver is properly rested is important any time a commercial vehicle is being operated. It is recommended that a minimum of eight hours of rest is achieved and becomes even more critical when operating in winter driving conditions. Drivers need to constantly stay alert when driving in adverse weather in order to proactively scan the road ahead to anticipate emergencies and to avoid the need to make any sudden maneuvers.

Tire Care
Drivers must make sure the truck is prepared for winter driving before starting each day. Tires are a vital factor of keeping your vehicle under control when driving on ice or snow. Traction tires on the drive axles of the truck must have ample tread to provide effective control during ice and snow conditions. Drivers must frequently check the air pressure with a tire gauge during the cold weather months as drops in temperature can cause a loss in tire pressure, resulting in a loss of traction and premature tire wear.

Safety Elements
Drivers are required to wear their seatbelt at all times, but seatbelts become even more critical when driving in winter weather conditions as they clearly have been shown to greatly reduce driver injuries during a crash. Turn on your headlights, which most states require by law, and you will increase your visibility and make your truck more visible to other motorists.

Speed and Following Distance
Operating at a speed too fast for the conditions of the roadway is the most frequent cause of winter crashes. Reducing your speed and increasing following distance become critical when on slick roads as a truck will take much longer to stop when traction is reduced. Leaving plenty of space between your vehicle and others will also provide additional reaction time to avoid a crash due to another motorist’s erratic driving. The first snow of the season is often a very dangerous time to be on the road.

Brake Before Turning
We all know that on snowy conditions it is difficult to steer a truck when applying the brakes, especially when already into a turn. Remember to apply brakes in a controlled manner before entering a turn to prevent skids.

“Black Ice”
Professional drivers are constantly watching for signs of black ice forming on the roadway, especially on bridges and overpasses, which cool much faster than other areas of the roadway. Black ice forms when the temperature drops rapidly and is particularly hazardous at night when it may be much more difficult to notice. Drivers should closely watch when other vehicles are no longer creating spray from their tires or when a thin sheet of ice begins to form on the truck mirrors as this may indicate the formation of black ice.

Preventing Winter Related Injuries
Many professional drivers are unnecessarily injured each winter, negatively impacting their families and companies for whom they work. Most injuries can be prevented by keeping in mind a few simple safety steps:
• Always use proper footwear, which includes a rugged, non-slip sole that provides support for each ankle.
• Always be aware of where you are about to walk, as ice and snow can often be found in/around parking areas where drivers may be required to walk.
• Before entering or exiting the truck, watch for ice accumulating on handrails or steps.
• Always use three points of contact when exiting/entering the truck, tractor, the trailer or climbing onto the catwalk.

In Closing
Implementing sound fleet safety procedures geared towards operator awareness are essential in reducing driving risks. It is critical to safeguard your operators as well as others on the roadways. Paying attention to your surroundings especially during inclement weather conditions will reduce your exposure to avoidable accidents and property damage. | WA

Chuck Ashman is a Risk Manager for Hartzell Insurance Associates (Hatfield, PA), serving the Waste Hauling and Recycling industry for 30 years. Hartzell has established a broad range of risk mitigation strategies, driver safety policies and DOT Compliance standards. They have also partnered with industry-leading insurance carriers for commercial auto, workers compensation, and pollution programs and solutions. For more information, call (215) 997-5800 or visit

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