Driver Digest: 10 Winter Driving Tips

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Snow winter road in forest with car up ahead

For a large part of the United States and Canada, winter weather causes undesirable driving conditions. Snow, rain, and ice are the worst nightmares of most drivers. Many people avoid winter roads all together, but for some that isn’t an option. Among these are the truck drivers who are responsible for transporting goods through the supply chain.

Every year, winter weather costs companies an average of $2.4 billion dollars1. Taking precautionary steps can save money, time, and most importantly lives.

Here are ten winter weather driving trips for truck drivers:

  1. Allow Extra Time to Complete a Job: Make sure that you leave enough time to complete the job safely. During winter weather, travel time increases an average of 14-24% depending on the area and average speed declines during the winter months. Light rain or snow can decrease average speed by 3-13% while heavy snow can reduce speed by 5-40%2.
  2. Increase Your Following Distance: It takes tractor-trailers 20-40% further to stop than passenger vehicles3. That percentage increases as the road conditions alter with winter weather. Give yourself enough space to be able to have a safe emergency stop if necessary.
  3. Slow Down: Average freeway speed decreases once winter weather hits – sometimes as much as 64%4. Take your time on your haul and be aware of your surroundings. Driving at a slower, constant speed will allow you to have more control of your truck.
  4. Perform a Thorough Pre-Trip Inspection: Performing the usual pre-trip inspection is always important but it is especially important during the winter months. If something were to fail during your haul, it may take longer for maintenance to occur. Check to ensure that your tractor is ready to handle the winter roads. Pay particular attention to your lights, wipers, defrosters, horn, and tires during the winter months.
  5. Keep Fuel Tanks Full: Detours, longer trips and heavy traffic are all common occurrences during the winter months. Having a full fuel tank will alleviate the possibility of running out of fuel at the wrong place and time. Aside from the fear of running out of gas, drivers need to think of the consequences of low fuel levels on their trucks. Once fuel tanks begin to empty, condensation forms and it creates water in the fuel separator that can freeze overnight. Each fueling should also have additive. You should drain your fuel/water separator every day. To empty your fuel/water separator open the valve for no more than two seconds. Then restart your tractor and run it for a few minutes.
  6. Prevent Airline and Brake Freezing: You should also drain your air tanks every day. Failure to do so will cause condensation to form. Condensation prevents airflow through the lines causing the brakes to malfunction.
  7. Check Chains Often For Tightness: If you are driving in different elevations it is common to have chains on your tires to help with traction. If chains are not tight enough they will come off and the truck will get stuck. Avoid any unnecessary maintenance by checking the chains daily.
  8. Prevent Jackknifing: Jackknifing occurs when the roads are slick and you aren’t carrying a full truckload. It’s important for drivers to be aware of the weight of their loads because light loads don’t give your truck enough traction. Anticipate when you will need to break and spread breaking over a long distance so that you can gradually reduce speed and come to a stop. It’s safer to navigate the turn without breaking so you have enough traction to not skid and cause the jackknife effect. If you have to decelerate for a curve or a turn it’s important to hit the brakes prior to turning your wheel5.
  9. Be Prepared: Although you prepare prior to the start of your trip, we can’t predict the outcome of every job. It’s important to prepare for all possibilities. Keeping a phone charged, blankets and other precautions can make unexpected things manageable. If you breakdown you want to know that you will be able to contact the appropriate people and stay safe while waiting for instructions on what to do next.
  10. Stay Informed: Keep informed before and during your hauls. It’s important to listen for road closures, detours, traffic, and road conditions. It’s also good to keep up to date with the weather forecast. Knowing what to expect will save time and unneeded headaches.

Winter weather has already started to plague regions across North America. Stay safe as you navigate winter weather by using these tips and stay alert while driving.


  1. http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm
  2. http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm
  3. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/large-trucks/fatalityfacts/large-trucks
  4. http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm
  5. http://m.wikihow.com/Avoid-Jackknifing