The long slide

| February 01, 2007

Stay calm
“There are so many variables,” Mueller says. “Once the road and climate get like that, you have to constantly compensate for the mistakes of others on the road. That’s where your attitude comes to play. You can’t get angry with your dispatcher or other motorists.”

Driving on slippery roads is high-stress work, but part of driving professionalism is taking weather changes and other motorists’ mistakes in stride, minus any anger. The pros don’t say you shouldn’t get angry; they say you can’t. Anger on the roadway is not an option for a professional driver.

“You can’t let your schedules, your dispatcher or others around you drive your truck for you,” Mueller says. “In these driving conditions, the most important thing becomes just to get there safely.

“Drive with what you’re comfortable doing. Guys out West might drive in the mountains all the time during the winter, and they get some experience. But it might be your first trip out there, and you might not be able to continue.”

Know your brakes
“We want to control-brake as much as possible,” Mueller says. “But, unfortunately, we’re human, and we’re probably going to hit the brakes too hard and lock them up. Then we have to let the antilock brake system go to work.”

Mueller says part of “situational awareness” is knowing whether your truck and trailer have ABS.

“Sometimes the truck has it, sometimes the trailer doesn’t, and vice versa, and that can lead to a potentially hazardous situation,” he says. “If either the tractor or trailer don’t have ABS, then you have to drive as if the whole vehicle doesn’t have it.”

If you’re not sure, ask your maintenance people. “A lot of the older trailers don’t have it,” Mueller says. “If the tractor goes into ABS mode, the trailer will most likely lock its wheels. If you hold the brake down long enough, that will end in a jackknife.

“The skidding wheel will lead. Whether it’s the steers, the drives or the trailer tandems, if you stay on the brakes long enough, the skidding wheels will eventually wind up leading the way.”

Mueller has nothing but respect for ABS.

“It’s a great system,” he says. “It’s a computer that senses when the wheels lock up. It pulses a lot faster than we could ever stab the brakes, and that allows you to continue steering. That’s the really great thing about ABS.”

But make sure it’s on all the wheels before relying on it.

Engine brakes can also lead to trouble on slippery surfaces.

“In situations where people run engine brakes, if you take your foot off the throttle, they’ll come on, you’ll go into a skid,” Williams says. That’s because engine brakes slow the tractor only. The trailer will push against the slowing tractor, forcing the rig into a skid and possible jackknife.

Make it smooth
On a slippery surface, any sudden movements can cause problems. It’s important to drive gently and smoothly. Other than engine brakes, normal throttle use can easily cause a skid on an icy road. Slow down and drive as far ahead in traffic as possible so you can feather the brakes and throttle.

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