Winter Driving

Blue Truck in winter season
Van in the road of winter Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

Driving is challenging on the best of days. Entering the winter season makes it even more so. Standard precautions most driver trainers will go over are split into two categories. The first category is the vehicle, lights, tires, washer fluid, brakes, etc. The second, and most important, driver behaviour. There is, however, a third important category as well which we will touch on; organization policy. 

The first winter safety category set of precautions are well known so this should be a review for most fleets. Every vehicle owner should have implemented a seasonal maintenance program where safety-critical components are inspected and maintained. Firstly attention must be paid to the tires, without good tires, the driver will have a more difficult time maintaining control of the vehicle during snowy and icy conditions. The next piece is to see and be seen, check the windshield, wipers, wash & defrost systems, if a driver cannot see, they will have an extremely difficult time navigating. The vehicle’s lighting systems must also be checked and working, especially given there are fewer daylight hours during the winter months. Finally, special attention must be paid to the Antilock braking, fuel, starting & charging systems.

Driving behaviour has the most profound impact on winter operations. Drivers must be mentally prepared for the challenging conditions which may lie ahead. The organization must support the driver by being patient and understanding there are going to be delays during winter weather events. Critical driving behaviours which should be addressed and trained on are mental state, speed control, space management, operation during extreme conditions & finally trip planning. 

Drivers must be mindful of their mental state, they must be aware of their mood, stress level & alertness behind the wheel. Keeping an eighty thousand (80,000) pound plus vehicle combination on the road is not for the ill-prepared. Speed is the main contributor to collisions, the faster we go, the longer distance it takes to stop in any condition. A driver must be aware of the space they need to stop given the reduced friction on the road’s surface. On average, the difference between 90 & 100 Km/h on a snowy road surface is 44m a tractor-trailer can slide for up to 150m before it comes to a complete stop. This is when visibility becomes a factor, most headlight systems can illuminate 450’ in front of the driver. Drivers must be able to safely stop given the conditions. According to most provincial standards, visibility <250m is deemed to be poor. Drivers must be reminded to reduce their speeds to safely come to a stop collision-free.

Winter refresher training is one of the critical pieces in a well-functioning winter safe driving program. The selection of personnel will vary from carrier to carrier. A carrier with 1000 trucks will not have the same training roll-out as a 100-power unit carrier. In any event, the training should take place with the drivers who operate in the riskier lanes or with the drivers who demonstrate a higher likelihood of having a collision. 

The final critical piece which an organization should consider implementing, if they haven’t already is some form of ‘winter shutdown’ policy. The standard will vary depending on operation, lane, combination, and location. There are some similarities however, forecast communication, weather monitoring, volume of snow, visibility, wind, ice accumulation, suggested operating speeds. Standards should be well thought out & clear to be useable. There should be a caveat inserted to support drivers who do not feel comfortable in proceeding until the conditions improve. Winter driving gives rise to multiple challenges in any trucking operation. Preparedness is the name of the game.