Both of us are from South Florida so we came into the world of trucking with no winter driving experience whatsoever. It didn’t help that we went through our training in the spring either, so our tires never hit snow. It took nearly a year before there was snow under our feet for our skills to get put to the test. We were however, blessed with 2 friends early in our career (now considered family) that taught us the signs to watch for when driving through icy or snow bound conditions. We put together the most important points along with some photos we took while inching through a blizzard in North Dakota.
Watch the Temperatures
Fluctuating temperatures just above and below freezing lead to roads icing over rapidly, this is the time to turn off your cruise control.
Bridges Freeze First
Due to the cold surrounding areas of bridges, winds will cause them to ice over rapidly. The best practice when passing over a bridge is to let off the gas and let the truck roll until you have crossed over safely.
Snow VS Freezing Rain
Freezing rain will occur when temperatures are near or just below freezing. This is when you should start to be more cautious of your surroundings and fast changing road conditions. Expect ice and snow in your path.
Don’t Crowd the Plows
Snow plows average below highway speeds (-55 mph) so watch out for those flashing lights and be cautious when passing. Plowing heavily snow covered roads will lead to large amounts of snow being thrown into the surrounding lanes, which can blind you when passing and/or cause you to lose control.
Freshly Plowed Roads
Plowed roads can be a blessing and a curse. Though fresh plowing seems like it will give you a safer roadway, you will hit snow-pack. During the plowing process, they are also compressing the snow below them, leaving behind sheets of ice and snow-pack. Be cautious in these conditions.
Driving through Snow
Do not drive through previous tracks from other vehicles. The snow in the tire tracks will be compressed, leading to slippery conditions. It’s always best to stay in the “fresh powder” to maintain traction. Watch for spray behind the tires of passing vehicles, so you can identify if you're driving over ice.
Be sure to look over your route for chain laws in effect, especially if you'll be crossing over mountains. Some US Highways have permanent seasonal chain laws, so stay diligent and preplan your route. The general trucker consensus is - if you have to throw chains, it’s probably not worth driving through. Make sure to stay within your companies policy on chain law privileges.
Use De-Icer Windshield Washer
Ice will build up quickly on your windshield during an active snow storm. Make sure to add alcohol to your windshield washer fluid, or keep it simple and buy the de-icer windshield washer fluid in the surrounding winter months to keep you prepared.
Don’t Make Sudden Changes
In icy, slippery, and/or snow covered conditions - you should do everything with ease and patience. Change lanes slowly so you don’t cause your truck to lose traction and slide. Brake lightly, and utilize the stab braking method so you don’t lock up your wheels. Accelerate with ease and let the truck roll when passing other vehicles to help maintain traction. This will help you lessen the chance of a self inflicted spin out.
Driving with the Public
There are 2 (seemingly popular) means of driving through snow storms, either by yourself or within a “chain” of other cars/trucks. They both have their pros and cons and neither is right or wrong. Maintaining excessive distance in front and behind you; keeps you away from others, along with their errors and bad judgement. People tend to overcorrect, and can take you with them if you're too close or cannot come to a full stop in time to avoid it. On the other hand, driving in a chain can be somewhat of a safety barrier, warning you of ice up ahead. This method can also increase your chances of being involved in a pile up. So make sure to keep your following distance if you choose the latter. With both choices in mind, remain in the right lane if not passing, turn on your four way flashers if operating below the minimum speed limits, and take it slow. Mother nature will always win if you take her for granted.
Better to be safe, than sorry.
If you are not comfortable driving through any mixture of winter conditions; it’s better to shut it down and let your company know the current road conditions are unsafe. It’s okay to some feel pressure, it comes with the job… but keep in mind, no load is worth your life. You will get there, when you get there.
Remain in Your Vehicle
If you, or another vehicle around you is caught in a wipe out, please REMAIN IN YOUR VEHICLE. If others around you start to lose control, your vehicle will offer you a form of protection. If you see an incident happen, please leave it to the professionals - a quick 911 call will keep everyone safe. Lastly, if road conditions have worsened beyond your comfort or driving abilities, keep driving until you can exit the highway safely. Stopping along the shoulders, especially in inclement weather, can make you an unnecessary road hazard and puts your life in danger.
Please note, information found on this page is for entertainment purposes only. Any action taken upon the methods described and information on this website is strictly at your own risk.