Winter Road Hazards Demand PROs Keep a Laser Focus on the Road

When you see slush, snow and ice, remember these safety techniques to bring your crews home safely at the end of the day

Winter Road Hazards Demand PROs Keep a Laser Focus on the Road

Jeff and Terri Wigley

Question: Given that winter is now upon us, what driver safety tips can you offer?

Answer: Driver safety is a constant area of focus and education in our industry. And rightfully so. Our route service technicians are out there every day, every week and in every type of weather conditions. Our research on this topic produced an interesting fact. Inclement weather causes roughly 25 percent of all speeding-related truck driving crashes. So keep these tips in mind as you and your crew hit the road this season:

Decreasing speed in inclement weather is mandatory. Cut your speed down by one-third on wet roads. Cut your speed down by one-half on snowy or icy roads.

Brake and accelerate slowly. Driving experts suggest using the ball of your foot to lightly pump the brakes while keeping you heel on the floor.  

Give yourself extra space in front and behind. Although we have all heard this, perhaps this fact will get the attention of your drivers: The stopping distance required on ice at 0 degrees F is twice that required at 32 degrees F.

Observe tire spray in order to detect black ice. One of our drivers relayed this tip to us many years ago: If the road looks wet and there is a lot of spray, the roads are wet. Be careful. If the road looks wet and there is less spray, take caution as icing may begin to occur. If the road looks wet and there is no tire spray from the vehicle in front of you, you are on black ice. Be extremely careful.

Watch bridges as they freeze before roads. This is one of the most common tips, and road signs frequently remind all drivers of this fact.

Inspect your vehicle and remove snow and ice before leaving the yard. Mirrors should be clean and clear of snow and ice. The same goes for lights and turn signals. Finally, do a hands-on inspection of wiper blades and wiper fluid.

One final fact that we found to be of interest was from “You face the greatest risk of losing traction on snowy, wet roads when temperatures are between 22 and 35 degrees F.” At colder temperatures, “between 10 to 20 degrees or less, snow-covered and icy roads afford more traction than the 22 to 35 degree range.” This serves as a warning to those who live in areas that do not experience bitter cold … winter driving can be dangerous!


Question: What driver-safety tips have you gained from your own experiences in addition to the standard lists out there?

Answer: Before answering this question, we would like to emphasize that, in our opinion, familiarity with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is a prerequisite for any company in our industry. The mission of this agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is “to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving trucks.” Train your employees using this safety program as your standard list.

Understand the proper procedure for recovery when the front tire drops off the road. This is a learning experience for inexperienced drivers. In fact, in discussions with others in our industry, serious injury or death may occur as a result of improper handling of this situation. 

  • Do not panic, and do not try to quickly swerve back onto the road. Our tank trucks are top-heavy and susceptible to surge. Quickly turning the vehicle back onto the road can — and will — turn the truck over.
  • Steer the vehicle over to the right so that your rear tires are also off of the road.
  • Ease off the gas pedal and slowly return to the road once there is a gap in traffic.
  • Turn the steering wheel approximately one-quarter turn to the left and drive back on the road.
  • As soon as all four tires are on the road, steer to the right in order to stay in the lane.

Understand the properties of high center of gravity and liquid surge that are unique to our industry.

Regardless of the tank size, the principle of high center of gravity exists for all tank trucks. Most of the weight of our vacuum trucks is carried high up off the road. As a result, these vehicles are very easy to tip over. An interesting fact from the Portable Sanitation Association International: “Tanker trucks can turn over at the speed limits posted on curves.” Care should be taken at all times when turning vehicles with tanks.

Liquid surge results from the movement of the liquid in partially filled tanks. The liquid moves constantly while the truck is in motion. When coming to a stop, the liquid will surge and produce a wave that tends to push the truck forward. With most trucks having waste and water tanks, surge can be intense. Becoming familiar with this phenomenon is crucial in the training of new route drivers.

Understand the term “outage.” Terri and I were completely unfamiliar with this term until we took the PSAI training courses for PSAI certification. The guiding principle is “to never load a cargo tank totally full.” Liquids expand as they warm and you must leave room for the expanding liquid. This is called outage. You must be familiar with this concept and take it into account, especially in the hot summer months.


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