The long slide

| February 01, 2007

“I ended up having to let off the brakes so it would straighten up,” Ward says. “It got straightened up, but that was after I went through the light at about 20 miles an hour, laying on my horn so people would look and see me. Luckily, there was no traffic.”

Ward says he was just lightly pumping the brakes while watching the road in front of him and the trailer on his side. “Every time I hit the brakes, the trailer came unglued,” he says.

“Had I freaked out and just stood on the brakes, I’d have got that thing twisted into a pretzel. Each time the trailer broke free, I’d have to let off the brakes and get straightened out again.”

Back off
“The momentum of the truck on snow and ice: it takes a lot longer to stop, even at slow speeds, than it does on dry pavement,” Ward says.

He recommends increasing following distances “five or 10 times more than normal” on icy surfaces.

“I’m a Florida boy, and I’m not familiar with that kind of driving,” Ward says. “It was dark out, and I could not tell the road was icy. I never even knew it as there.”

Going up or down hills, big trucks can start skidding on ice even at crawling speeds.

“I saw a tractor-trailer going down a hill, and you could’ve walked faster than it was going,” Williams says. “But those drive wheels broke free, and that trailer came right around on him.”

That’s how inexperienced drivers learn not to try taking icy hills.

“You want to drive for conditions,” says skid-pad qualified driving instructor John Mueller at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wis. “Increase your following distance from 3 to 12 times, depending on vehicle, brakes, tires, roads and whether you’re loaded or empty.”

Plan ahead
“What it really comes down to is that you have to be aware of your surroundings before the situation occurs: inside the truck, outside, on the left and right sides, behind and of course ahead,” says Mueller, who was a Schneider National driver for 20 years. He’s got 16 years of driver-training experience. “Once you get into that emergency situation, you have to deal with it quickly. It happens too fast for you to think once it starts.

“You have to get into that truck every day in the right frame of mind, ready to deal with all the changes out there.”

That includes trip planning. “It’s easy to get into trouble, but there are a lot of ways to avoid it,” Mueller says. “Keep your eye on weather reports, and keep the radio on. Be aware of changing conditions. Know what you’re driving into, and plan your trip accordingly.”

Many safety directors advise parking in snowy or icy conditions. To keep running, plan to go around storms and high-traffic areas, if possible. If not, allow more time to make the trip – even twice as much – and inform your dispatcher or fleet manager of changes you make. If they give you a hard time about it, call the safety department.

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