When you slow down, do it carefully. Even normal braking can cause a skid on a slippery road. “When the road conditions are slick, you have to have a steady hand on the wheel and stay off the brakes,” Golly says. Sudden steering that’s taken for granted on dry pavement – a swerve to avoid debris – can cause instant loss of control on a slick road. “It’s important, if you see you’re about to miss an exit, not to steer sharply to try and get it because you can easily put your tractor-trailer into a skid,” Golly says. “You’re better off going down to the next exit, turning around and coming back.”
The main component of the right winter driving attitude will always be reduced speed. “Being in a hurry will get you in trouble,” Golly says. “I think the best things that drivers can do is slow down, plan their trips, be prepared, and don’t get in a hurry in bad weather.”
Reduced speed decreases the possibility of skidding on roadways. But a drop-and-hook in a snow-covered dirt lot can be treacherous, too. The snow hides deep potholes, curbs and debris that can flat a tire. Too fast and you might lose control; too slow and you lose the momentum that carries you through the deep stuff.
“If I’m going bobtailing into a snow-covered lot to get a trailer, I park it first, get out and walk the lot to see what the ground is like, how it reacts to my weight,” Wethington says. “I’ve done that plenty of times. If your feet start slipping or sinking, what do you think that big unit’s gonna do?”
While on snow-covered lots, observe any tracks from other vehicles. You can learn from previous drivers’ mistakes. “Look at what other kinds of vehicles have gone in there,” Wethington says. “That will tell you what kind of condition the ground is in. If you can see where other vehicles have got stuck, it’s probably not a good idea to go there.”
Even after these precautions, there’s still a likelihood you’ll get stuck sometimes. “It’s like Murphy’s Law,” Wethington says. “If something can go wrong, it will.”
“You’re going to make mistakes,” Bass says. “You’re going to mess up sooner or later.”
Fortunately, there are several methods that might get a big rig unstuck. First, stay calm. That’s not too difficult if you’re prepared for winter driving.
Bekins driver Ross has a simple winter-preparation formula. “To be legal, you need five single-wheel chains for the tractor and a set of drag chains for the trailer,” he says. For good measure, he throws in a 50-pound bag of cat litter or sand, a sturdy bag that won’t tear open, waste its contents and make a mess.
Drivers often pour chemicals, such as anti-freeze, bleach, ammonia or rubbing alcohol, under tires when they get stuck. These chemicals will melt ice, but in snow they’ll just make a toxic slush, and they will dramatically shorten tire life. As well, carrying these fluids can be tricky. Their original containers can be flimsy. If they leak, they will destroy cloth, take the finish off paint and corrode metal. Worse, they can emit toxic fumes and create a fire hazard inside the cab.
“You have to get something between your tires and the snow or ice,” Bass says, and the cat litter or sand works well, but it might take a lot. Chaining up is hard to do after you’re stuck, but 25 feet of strong towing chain can be invaluable. “A spare log chain is a great piece of equipment to carry in the winter,” Golly says. He also adds a small shovel to the list.
In a pinch, your supplies can include anything handy. “Put something under there like a board or a mud flap,” Wethington says.