21st November 2020
A truck driver's guide to winter
Truck driving in winter can be intimidating for operators across Europe. Rain, wind, fog and snow all add to trickier road conditions, while darker nights are much colder in the cab. This ultimate winter guide for HGV drivers will help to get you ready for the chilly months ahead.
Check the forecast
Before you leave the house, check the weather forecast. If you are facing slippery roads, high winds or snow, then you can prepare for the journey and get yourself ready. Truck driving in winter means roads can shut, and you will have to find alternative routes.
22% of all UK road accidents are the result of bad weather. Being ahead of the game gives you time to notify your customers and transport manager if you think there could be delivery delays.
Check your vehicle
Winter safety tips for truck drivers always include a thorough vehicle inspection. 45% of drivers don’t do any checks on their vehicle, but make sure you’re one of the 55% who does. Take extra precautions, and schedule regular maintenance. Checking your HGV is essential, and there are several things that you need to look out for, to ensure your truck is safe for the journey ahead:
- Tyre tread – The legal limit for an HGV is 1mm, but try not to allow your tyre tread depths to get below 3mm.
- Battery – A flat battery can be disastrous in the depths of winter.
- Lights - It’s illegal to have broken vehicle lights, and you could face a fine of £50 if you don’t have suitable lighting. Help other drivers see you in low visibility.
- Brakes – You’re going to want to slow down and stop, so brakes are essential.
- Fluid levels – The roads are dirty during winter, so it’s important to keep washer fluids topped up and your windscreen clean.
- Mirrors – Clear and clean your mirrors. Make sure your visibility is as good as possible.
- Wipers – You will likely need to clear your windscreen, and your wipers will be the saviour.
- Exhaust – Make sure it’s clear of snow, as it can put you in danger from toxic fumes.
Winter truck driving is all about preparing for every situation. While the days become colder, the odds of breakdowns and accidents increase, so packing the right equipment will keep you comfortable and safe. Here is a quick checklist of what to include in your arsenal:
- De-icer / Ice scraper – The law says windscreens should be clear of ice and snow before driving.
- Warm clothing – The cab can get cold, especially at night.
- Extra blanket – It’s better to prepare. You may need an extra layer on your sleeping bag.
- Torch – Make sure you pack a flashlight/head-torch, it’s crucial.
- Added food and drink – If you get stranded, you’ll be thankful for the extra supplies.
- A shovel and sand/salt – These will come in handy if you get your truck stuck.
- Jump leads – There’s nothing worse than not being able to start the engine and turn on the heating.
- Portable phone charger – It’s can be vital to keep your mobile phone charged.
One of the best HGV winter driving tips is reducing your speed. Christmas delivery schedules can be the catalyst for putting your foot down, but remember, most accidents are the result of excessive driving speed. In a study conducted by Reg Transfers in 2018, 6,468 crashes were the result of drivers travelling too fast for the conditions.
One of the key headlines in the truck drivers guide to winter roads is driving smoothly. Try to minimise any harsh braking, accelerating and turning, as it can lead to you losing control of the vehicle. Aim to keep a steady speed and try to keep as much traction on the road as possible.
Leave enough distance
Research indicates that the average stopping distance for an HGV, travelling at 60mph is 73 metres. But did you know that when there is ice and snow on the roads, the stopping distance for an HGV increases 10 times? If you are truck driving in winter, give yourself enough time to react and leave plenty of room behind the vehicle in front.
If you are changing lane, turn your indicators on early and make sure other road users have seen them before pulling into the outside lane - we recommend four or five blinks. You shouldn't feel pressured to make any sudden accelerations or steers to get past slower traffic and use your hazard lights to show you are travelling slower if necessary.
Another winter truck driving tip is using your headlights effectively. Even in the middle of the day, visibility can be difficult during winter, so you must know when to use your lights. A well-lit HGV will help other road users as much as it helps you.
Winter driving in a commercial vehicle can be difficult, and if the conditions could put you at risk, pull over and wait for it to pass. It is not worth putting yourself in danger.
Here are some top winter truck driving tips from a driver in the USA.
Judging the conditions
A lot of winter driving tips for truck drivers vary, depending on the weather they are facing. Here is a quick breakdown of the conditions you may face and the best way to deal with it:
- Rain – Highways England launched a campaign in 2016 that highlighted that people are 30 times more likely to be seriously injured on rainy roads compared to snow. Any downpours will limit your visibility and impact your braking distances by twice the amount. Pre-empt the habits of other drivers and brake gradually.
- Flood – The AA has said that nearly a third of flood-related deaths (32%) takes place inside a vehicle. Try to assess the depth before driving through, and if you think it’s safe, start at 1-2mph, building to 3-6mph and stick to the middle of the road where it will be higher.
- Fog – The Met Office classifies fog if the visibility is less than 1,000 metres. If visibility is more than 1,000 metres, then it’s misty. But if visibility falls to 100 metres (328 feet), turn on your fog lights, slow down and leave extra room on the road, especially on motorways.
- Wind – Strong gusts can overturn high-sided HGVs. Drive with caution, particularly if you have an empty trailer or a lighter load.
- Ice – Hundreds of trucks have been the victims of black ice. If you hit a patch, take your foot off the accelerator, try not to use the brakes and steer into the skid.
How do trucks drive in the snow?
Driving an HGV in the snow is one of the most challenging tasks a driver will face. Scientists predict that winters will become colder, and a lot of truck drivers will likely have to contend with snowy road conditions.
Truck driving in the snow has a lot of risk factor, and truckers must learn how to drive in the wintry conditions.
For any commercial drivers facing particularly snowy or icy conditions, we recommend using heavy-duty HGV tyre chains for extra traction.
Is it safe to pull a trailer in the snow?
Pulling a trailer can be dangerous in the snow, as the chances of jack-knifing increase significantly during winter. It is more difficult for your tyres to grip the road and it's easy for your trailer to lose control.
For any HGV drivers in an articulated vehicle or pulling a trailer, you must recognise the signs of jack-knifing and know how to avoid it. Make sure you brake over longer distances, avoiding any sudden steering or acceleration.
How do truck drivers stay warm at night?
Lorry drivers use cold weather sleeping bags, heavy blankets, double-layered clothing and battery heaters to stay warm during long nights in the cab. Another tip is to make sure you close the doors and windows when you are shutting up shop for the night. You could even invest in a heated mattress pad to keep you cosy in bed.
During the morning after, a lot of drivers often start the engine to heat the cab before they hit the road. Keeping warm will help you to sleep well and recharge your batteries.
We hope that this truck drivers guide to winter has been useful, but if you have any other helpful advice for your fellow drivers, let us know via the SNAP Facebook page.
Josh Cousens | SNAP.