Snow Biz

| September 11, 2005

Roehl driver Tony Long warns younger drivers that just because their first few journeys over snow and ice were uneventful, that doesn’t mean they should make the mistake of overconfidence on future trips.

For all their power, wheels and weight, big trucks can easily get stuck or roll over. It just takes one misstep. So winter, with its snow, sleet and ice, is a treacherous time for drivers.

By taking the right precautions and following a few basic winter-driving rules, drivers can make it through the cold months without mishap.

The most important winter driving asset a driver can have is the right attitude.

Roehl company driver Tony Long of Newnan, Ga., recalls a snow storm that hit two days before Christmas last year in southern Illinois and western Kentucky. He was going about 25 miles an hour on I-24 between Marion and Paducah, and other drivers were on the CB yelling at him for going too slow. There were numerous trucks that had slid off the road up and down the interstate.

“The super truckers blow by you,” he says, “then you see them a couple miles down the road slid off in a ditch.”

It’s a common trap into which drivers fall: drive through snow or ice a couple of times with no problems and it starts to look easy.

“They get overconfident,” Long says. “They do that stuff a few times without getting into trouble, and they start to think they’re invincible.” Drivers conclude that their 10th experience driving through frozen precipitation is somehow not as dangerous as their first, so they drive faster.

Unlearning such ideas is necessary, but it can be costly. Long remembers one customer’s lot in Ohio. “They never plow it. They just kind of let the trucks tamp it down. One driver took a curve at about 20 miles an hour.” Long explained it was just a slow, easy curve. “His drives slipped, and he jackknifed and slid into a ditch.”

The driver was not injured, but a few seconds of carelessness had cost driver and employer more for towing, lost time and income than the trip paid. Plus, the truck was damaged.

To put it as bluntly as possible: It’s best to avoid driving in snow and ice whenever possible.

“Common sense will tell you if you start to slip, find some place to park it,” says McElroy Truck Lines driver Robert Bass of Waynesboro, Miss. “At least that’s what I do.”

There’s always pressure to deliver no matter what, so parking during bad weather might not sound like an option. But most trucking companies would rather their drivers park than drive through risky weather. “It’s against company policy to drive in icy conditions anyway,” says Southern Refrigerated Transport driver Robert Wethington of Hammond, La.

Some companies issue chains or cables during the winter, and some states require that truckers carry chains from autumn until spring. But not all companies want their drivers to chain up except to get someplace safe. Every company has a different chain-up policy, and it’s best to get it straight from the safety chief. But the general rule is you don’t chain up to deliver freight on time, and certainly not to reach your favorite truckstop. You chain up to get to the closest safe place and wait until conditions improve.

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