No matter where we drive, we’re always sharing the road with mother nature.
Everyone from the truck driver to your average commuter will encounter bad weather eventually.
Even for skilled, veteran drivers, driving in bad weather can be a tense experience that sometimes results in accidents, injuries, or worse.
Here we’ll cover some helpful safety tips for driving in poor weather conditions. Not a trucker? Don’t worry, most of our tips go for passenger vehicles as well. While winter will be getting a mention, many of our tips are useful year-round.
Let’s start with the most important element to road safety – the driver.
Driver Tips: Focus on Fundamentals and Know the Threats
Of all the safety tips for driving, one remains at the top of the list – buckle up.
Thankfully, many people understand the value of seat belts. According to the NHTSA, about 90% of motorists wear one.
Given that wearing a seat belt can limit your chance of injuries by about 50% in a car and 60% in a light truck, it’s only natural that the world’s commercial truckers buckle up before the journey (and the workday) begins.
When you start that journey, know what you’re up against. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the main weather threats and how to respond.
Common Inclement Weather Factors that Impact Driver Safety
Snow, ice, and even rain alone can make travel tough. When you’re on roads like this, take the engine brake off and take it slow.
Remember that speed decreases traction, so limit your speed and increase your following distance when driving in bad weather. This is especially important for stopping at signs and red lights.
Even if the roads are clear, those gorgeous banks of white plowed onto the shoulder and mountainside can be like mirrors that reflect the sun – so even during winter, keep some sunglasses handy.
Speaking of visibility issues, fog can also be a problem. When driving in fog, it’s more effective to avoid high beams so the powerful light isn’t reflected back.
Especially for truck drivers, high winds can become a factor on the road. Be mindful of their direction and intensity, so your acceleration and steering can help hold the vehicle and the load it’s carrying steady.
What Other Hazards Can Impact Drivers?
Even if conditions seem calm and clear, there are some surprising ways our environment impacts our driving.
Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that sees people’s moods and energy levels impacted by the changing of seasons. There’s also highway hypnosis, a condition that sees repetitive sights (like miles of road) cause a person to experience brain fog.
Don’t dismiss odd feelings as seasonal blues or simple daydreaming. Safe driving means keeping an active focus. It means keeping your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind on the journey.
When in Doubt, Just Wait it Out
What if you’re driving in poor weather conditions that continue to get worse and you’re in a situation where you can’t keep yourself safely on the road?
Pull over at the first available opportunity.
Be sure to try and find a spot where you’re away from traffic, as you can’t always count on passing cars seeing you, even if you’re in a huge truck.
Sure, we know what every trucker is thinking – but the delivery will be late. Even if that’s the case, those instances can be worked out. Never put yourself or anyone else on the road in danger by staying in motion if you don’t feel you can do so safely.
Equipment Tips: Check Your Rig and Know Your Surroundings
Truck driving in bad weather and truck driving in good weather have one thing in common – both start with an inspection.
Check your lights and defroster so you can rely on them to help you see through any precipitation or fog. You’ll also want to check your tires, as better tire health can improve traction.
You may find your tire maintenance increases in winter, as the cold air reduces pressure and traction – and with it fuel economy. Idle time can increase in the winter as well with drivers trying to stay warm, while use of cruise control typically diminishes.
For everyday drivers using a rental car or truckers piloting someone else’s vehicle, make sure you know the location of the safety manual and do a quick test of basic controls before you hit the road. You don’t want to be caught in a storm while driving a rental car and not know how to toggle the windshield wipers or hazard lights.
Additional Maintenance Tips Before and During the Journey
Other maintenance tips include checking the battery charge and topping off fluids, including fuel anti-gel if your vehicle runs on diesel. Since diesel fuel contains wax, anti-gel is necessary to prevent it from crystalizing or gelling when the temperature drops.
Maintenance can continue on the journey, as you observe your equipment during breaks along the way. Uneven spots on tires indicate they may need changing soon, while steam or melted snow coming from wheel hubs may indicate overheating bearings.
Mind the Terrain and the Location of Other Drivers
Trucks aren’t the only equipment drivers work with every day – they also depend on the nation’s roads and bridges. Even with smart logistical planning, it’s impossible to ensure you’ll always be on serviced roads.
When driving in bad weather, drivers should be especially careful on turns and exit ramps. Intersections are another area that can accumulate slush and ice quickly, even if the roads leading to them are clear.
Driving in inclement weather safely means driving defensively – and that means minding where your equipment is in proximity to other drivers. Does that pile of snow have a car inside? Better safe than sorry.
Be careful about passing as blind spots are even more difficult for everyone to see in harsh weather. If it’s getting to the point where you can’t see cars in front of you, try looking for their taillights.
Pack Emergency Supplies Just in Case
It’s better to be prepared with supplies and not need them than the other way around.
Drivers should always keep a change of clothes (including shoes), a blanket, snacks, and water with them in the vehicle. Even if you’re only stuck an hour or less, these items can make a big difference.
Our truckers pilot roomy Volvos with plenty of space to store much more than this. Luckily, the average motorists can fit most of what they’d need in a simple storage unit in the trunk. Whether you drive for a living or just drive to get home, preparedness is always a smart idea.
No one likes driving in bad weather, but Hermes provides you with the equipment and support you need to stay safe on the road at work. Whether you’re a seasoned driver or a newcomer to the industry, we’re looking for talented truckers to join our team – apply here.