If you’ve ever driven through a thunderstorm or a winter flurry, you know how drastically weather can affect the roads. Sometimes even the smallest puddle can cause a traffic accident. Truck drivers should be even more careful when driving through bad weather because of the sheer size of their vehicles, and the danger that they pose to civilian drivers.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, 22 percent of annual crashes are weather related. Depending on the speed you’re driving, wet roads can increase the distance needed to stop a vehicle by anywhere from 80 to 340 feet.
As risky driving conditions increase it would be nice to see less commercial trucks on the road, but America’s ever-increasing shipping demands ensure that they’re out in full force each day of the year.
Here are some weather hazards to be especially aware of when driving near a semi truck:
• Poor visibility
• Lane obstruction / lane submersion
• Poor pavement friction / tire grip
• Infrastructure damage
• Unexpected traffic / slow areas
• Traffic signal control
• Speed differential
• Vehicle performance
• Driver capabilities and control
The good news is that truckers are required by law to drive carefully in nasty weather. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations state, “extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions exist.”
The law goes on to state that commercial drivers must reduce their speed under hazardous conditions, and that if conditions become sufficiently dangerous they are required to stop driving altogether.
These laws may seem a little vague, but they serve to place the burden of good judgment on the shoulders of commercial drivers, and are upheld rigorously in court.
They also have another function. They give truckers leverage against their dispatchers. If a driver decides that conditions are too dangerous to drive (within reason) and misses a deadline, they can’t be fired for exercising that caution.
Despite the rules and regulations that are there to keep you safe, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Here’s a quick list of driving tips for any hazardous conditions:
• Clear all snow and ice from windows, lights, roof and hood of your car before driving.
• Leave extra room between your car and the vehicle in front of you.
• Go slow – posted speed limits are meant for dry road conditions.
• Brake early and brake slowly.
• Drive extra slowly across bridges, as they may ice sooner than other parts of the road.
• Drive extra carefully on exit ramps.
• Don’t use cruise control in hazardous conditions – the slightest touch of your brake to deactivate cruise control could cause your vehicle to lose traction.
• Four-wheel drive will help your vehicle accelerate faster, but won’t help you brake faster. Don’t be over-confident in your 4×4.
• Occasionally look four or five cars ahead of you in traffic. Quick glances ahead could help you brake early if needed.
• Don’t drive too close in front or behind large trucks.
• Wear your seatbelt. Make sure that all of your passengers are wearing their seatbelts.