Handling Extreme Driving Conditions – Part III

Welcome back to Part III in our always-topical series on how professional truck drivers handle extreme driving conditions. In this Part we are going to dive into specific winter driving hazards that you need to look out for.

Let’s face it, although Spring is technically here, winter is still holding on in large parts of the country. Are you prepared to hit the road and know that you can handle whatever driving conditions Mother Nature throws at you?

There are two main hazards you will likely experience as you drive in adverse winter weather conditions: Reduced visibility and reduced traction.

Handling Reduced Visibility

When snow and ice build up on your vehicle’s lights and surfaces, whether windows or mirrors, your visibility is reduced in all directions, whether in front, to the sides or in the rear.

If operating properly, your vehicle’s defroster should help keep the surface warm, while your windshield wipers should help keep the surface clean. One thing must always be remembered: Never drive if you cannot clearly see in all directions.

As mentioned earlier in this series, snow, ice, and dirt can build up on your vehicle’s lights and reflectors. If your side windows or mirrors get dirty, you may need to stop to clean them.

Also make sure to adjust your speed during times of reduced visibility, as snow and ice can greatly impede your ability to see objects as close in as 50 feet.  If visibility is too low, find the nearest safe place to stop and wait until conditions improve.

Handling Reduced Traction

Different surfaces afford different levels of traction. As an example, a snow- or ice-packed surface will have only one-fifth the level of traction that the same surface has when it’s wet.

When you are in a situation of low traction, it becomes easier for your vehicle’s drive wheels to spin and slip, which will impair your ability to maneuver the vehicle. While proper tire inflation, tread and vehicle weight increases traction, having a deft hand at the wheel is essential.

Just as you must stop in times of extremely low visibility, you must dramatically reduce your speed in times of low traction. On a wet surface, you may need to decrease your speed by one-fourth or more. As an example, if you normally travel at 65 mph on a particular stretch of road, you may need to reduce that to 45-48 mph when the road is wet.

On packed snow, you can generally drive around one-half your normal rate of speed. So that 65 mph would drop even further to 30-32 mph. On ice, you can cut that to about a third of your normal speed, or 18-20 mph.

Watching for Black Ice

Black ice is one of the most dangerous road conditions any driver – whether professional or passenger – may encounter. The danger with black ice is that it can be very difficult to spot. Most drivers aren’t aware of black ice until it’s too late.

Black ice forms when the ambient temperature drops at a rapid clip at or below the freezing mark (32 degrees). Any moisture on the road at that moment immediately freezes into a nearly invisible, slippery surface.

On extremely cold days, when the road is wet, be sure to pay extra attention to the spray thrown from other vehicles. If the spray suddenly stops, then that’s a sign black ice may be forming on that stretch of the road.

The most common places you may encounter black ice include:

  • Bridges;
  • Beneath underpasses;
  • Dips in the road where water collects;
  • Shaded areas around buildings, trees, hills or embankments;
  • The lower side of banked curves.

Also make sure to watch for rain turning into freezing rain as the temperature outside continues to drop. Another sign includes the sound of your tires on the road. Sudden crunching could be a sign of ice forming. Feel for ice on the front of your mirror and watch your vehicle’s antenna for signs of ice formation.

Always remember to take extra care on cold wintry roads. Then, join us back here in Part IIII of our series when we dig into skidding, jackknifing and dealing with wet brakes.