We operate everyday with many safety concerns; such as speed limits, load weight, hours of service, and freezing and slick driving conditions. Heavy rain, high winds, straight-line winds, winter storms, dust storms, blizzards and severe weather are also safety concerns. Regardless of the type of weather, driving in harsh conditions can increase the risk of dangerous situations for you and other drivers on the road.
All drivers need complete concentration and have their undivided attention to navigate through the weather. To arm yourself against mother nature, the best tip is to stay on top of the weather conditions on your route. Look up weather conditions on weather websites; local radio and television stations are a great place to start.
Awareness is the first step to staying safe in all weather conditions. Spring and fall tend to have more tornadoes, wind, and hail than other seasons. These tips can remind and help you prepare and stay safe while driving over the road. However, first, you need to know and understand the weather terms so you can determine which steps to take. The National Weather Service usually keeps everyone up to date on the impending storms. Either by broadcasting on the radio, television, or an online website.
Do you know your weather terms?
Depending on the severity of a storm, these terms are the most common used by the National Weather Service.
- Severe thunderstorm watch: Conditions are likely to develop into severe storms that can produce hail and wind gusts of up to 58 mph.
- Severe thunderstorm warning: Is issued when a severe thunderstorm is spotted on radar and is occurring in the warning area that can last 30 to 60 minutes.
- Tornado watch: Weather pattern can development severe thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes in and around the watch area. People in the affected areas are encouraged to be prepared for severe weather and be prepared to take cover if needed.
- Tornado warning: Generally, this means that storm spotters have sighted a tornado or radar has indicated a tornado in the warning area. When a tornado warning is issued, people in the affected area are encouraged to take cover immediately.
Before, during and after a storm can be dangerous if you are home, but more so if you are driving out on the road. Having a wreck can increase during a storm, not only because of the weather, but because of other drivers panicking and the aftermath of the storm. Remember, even if you are calm, other drivers may not be as they forget road rules and speed limits. Be prepared with common sense and caution.
We all know when driving over the road, it is only a matter of time until we cross severe weather. If you can re-route around the storm, do so. If you cannot stay off the road, or take shelter – the best advice is to at least stay off the roads until the weather passes.
One of the best tips is to keep all distractions at bay, keep the radio turned loud enough to catch the latest weather forecast report, but low enough that music is not distracting. Put your cell phone on hands-free or Bluetooth, try and stay off the CB as much as possible unless notifying other drivers of future road and weather conditions. It is not always practical to avoid all storms, but you can be proactive and plan around the storm.
To stay safe, you need to know how to avoid severe weather or dangerous weather conditions when possible proactively:
Pre-weather planning for your haul
- Before heading out, check the weather for your route.
- If severe or inclement weather is in your path, try and re-route and plan the time to avoid weather.
- If you cannot re-route; consider postponing and leave after the weather. Arriving late is better than not arriving at all.
- Remember other drivers may not be calm; be prepared for the actions/reactions of other drivers.
- Make sure to carry a NOAA weather radio, flashlights, non-perishable food items, water, clean towels and emergency first aid kits.
Most over the road drivers know that stopping distance is a primary concern when driving in risky weather conditions. When driving in precipitation, whether it be rain, freezing rain, snow or ice, you need room to stop if you lose traction. Sliding on the ice, jack-knifing or hydroplaning is a truck driver’s worst nightmare.
Big trucks should never use the Jake brake or engine brake in wet weather conditions, simply because it could cause loss of traction and could prevent proper braking, steering or acceleration.
Driving in heavy winds
Most truck drivers do not think about wind being a big issue when driving. However, driving in high winds can be quite dangerous especially in open spaces, highway overpasses, through mountains, and tunnels. Often these areas act as wind tunnels.
You are a big rig, so you know how difficult it can be to stay in your lane during strong winds. Keep in mind other rigs are probably fighting the same battle. Be prepared. Always keep both hands on the steering wheel in case a wind gust tries to push you out of your lane.
Driving in a tornado
High winds and thunderstorms often spawn tornadoes. Tornadoes are erratic and often change directions causing flying debris that is often more dangerous than the actual tornado itself.
If a tornado approaches while you are driving, pull over to a safe place and try to get to an indoor shelter, basement or an interior room.
If you cannot reach shelter:
- Get off the road. If it is possible, get off the road completely, instead of pulling over to the shoulder. Sometimes it is safer to get off the road and indoors and out of the path of the storm.
- Avoid stopping under bridges and tunnels. Over and underpasses often cause funnel winds that can be most dangerous.
- Get down low. Stay secured in your seat belt in your rig but leave it running, so the air bags work. Get as low as you can below the window with your head down. Cover your head with your hands or a blanket if you have one. Best case scenario is to leave your rig if you can get lower than the road way and lie in the ditch.
Tips for dealing with electricity
Whether due to a lightning strike or down power lines dealing with high voltage electricity is dangerous.
If an electric line is touching your truck, do not attempt to get out – instead wait inside for help. Or try to back up, if you cannot back up safely, call for help. In the case, you must leave the rig, try to jump clear and do not touch the ground and the truck at the same time. Once you land on the ground, shuffle your feet – DO NOT RUN. By keeping both of your feet close together on the ground, it prevents electricity from running through your body.
Driving after a storm
Just because the skies are calm, and the storm has passed, does not mean the danger is over. The roads can still be slippery from rain and melting hail. Hail often acts like loose gravel and can cause loss of traction. Debris can cover the road, making it hard to navigate. Heavy rains can also cause landslides and wash the road surface out or worse, flash flooding.
The secret to driving in any hazardous situation is to slow down and know when to stop.