How to Drive a Semi in Winter Conditions
If you’re interested in a career as a truck driver, your safety record will be incredibly important – and that means you’ll need to know how to drive a commercial truck in winter conditions such as snow and ice. Check out these nine tips to make sure you’re ready for the road.
9 TIPS TO HELP YOU DRIVE A COMMERCIAL TRUCK IN WINTER CONDITIONSSnow, ice and sleet can be incredibly dangerous to drive on, so professional truckers always follow these tips:
- Check your truck’s condition before any trip.
- Carry a winter driving kit.
- Start slow – and stay slow.
- Leave extra space around your truck.
- Be proactive in avoiding hazards.
- Stay calm, cool and confident behind the wheel.
- Watch out for black ice.
- Know what to do if you skid.
- Use extra caution in mountainous terrain.
Here’s a closer look at each.Related: Tips to avoid deer crashes in your commercial truck
1. Check your truck’s condition before any trip.
Always make sure your vehicle is in good condition before you leave for any trip – even a short one. Take some extra time during stops to:
- Clean snow and ice from the vehicle (paying special attention to the hood, roof, lights and windows).
- Check your tires and lights.
- Fill up with gas – and keep at least a half-tank of gas in your truck.
2. Carry a winter driving kit.Put together a winter driving kit that includes all the items you might need in a cold-weather emergency. Stock a bag or box with at least one:
- Bag of sand or salt
- Extra cell phone charger
- Extra clothing
- First aid kit
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Jumper cables
- Non-perishable food
- Snow brush
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Windshield scraper
- Windshield washer fluid
3. Start slow – and stay slow.
Driving slower gives you more time to react if something happens in front of you, and it keeps people from following you too closely, as well. Because the traction might be less-than-optimal, it’s always better to start in a higher gear and take your time getting up to your traveling speed.
4. Leave extra space around your truck.
Try to increase your following distance in icy, snowy or otherwise hazardous conditions. That way, you’ll have more time to react if something happens to the vehicle in front of you.
5. Be proactive in avoiding hazards.
Gentle deceleration and steering around obstacles are almost always better than slamming on the brakes. It takes less distance to do that than it does to come to a full stop, especially if you’re driving over 25 miles per hour – and remember, in slippery conditions, hitting the brakes too suddenly can cause you to lose control of your truck.Related: Storm and tornado safety for commercial truck drivers
6. Stay calm, cool and confident behind the wheel.
Grip your steering wheel so you have maximum control, and avoid sudden or sharp movements. Heavy wind, ruts in the road, ice and snow can all make it more difficult to manage your vehicle – but if you’re holding the wheel and staying confident in your driving ability, you’ll be able to navigate tough conditions more easily.
7. Watch out for black ice.
Black ice is thin and virtually invisible on asphalt – and even if you do see it, it resembles a puddle of water. Look out for it in shady spots, under bridges or on overpasses, especially when you notice:
- Ice building up on your mirror arms, antenna or the top of your windshield
- Frost on trees and signs
- Water spray from other vehicles stops, which indicates that the water on the roadway is frozen
8. Know what to do if you skid.
Be ready to get yourself out of a skid. Remember, the best course of action is to follow these three steps when in a manual transmission:
- Depress the clutch immediately
- Use your driver’s side mirror only
- Steer and counter-steer quickly so you can stay in front of your trailer
When you are in an Automatic, put the transmission in neutral vs. depressing the clutch.
9. Use extra caution in mountainous terrain.
Driving in the mountains can be hazardous in the best weather, so remember that during winter, conditions can – and do – change rapidly. Watch for melting snow, hard-packed snow and frozen slush on the roadways. Always obey posted speed limits and, if the area requires them, use tire chains.