In certain parts of the country, the fall foliage is in all its glory, and the crisp, cool air and shorter days are a reminder that winter is around the corner. For truck drivers, this time of year presents a range of driving hazards that can increase the risk of serious truck accidents. Although many motorists assume that winter weather conditions such as ice, snow, and freezing rain are far more dangerous than any other time of the year, fall-related safety hazards can be just as treacherous, particularly if truck drivers do not take the necessary steps to ensure that their truck has been properly maintained and prepared for the changing weather. As the temperatures continue to drop and the days get shorter, truck drivers are urged to make safety a priority and make sure that their trucks are prepared for the changing seasons.
What Are the Top Fall Weather Safety Hazards for Truckers?
Fall is one of the most spectacular seasons when it comes to scenic driving. However, truck drivers need to be aware of the following safety hazards so that they can take the necessary steps to avoid them, or minimize the risk of a serious accident:
- Wet leaves: This is one of the most common fall-related safety hazards for large trucks because wet leaves can cause roads to become dangerously slippery, making the road conditions similar to driving on ice. If wet or frozen leaves on the road cause the truck to lose traction and skid, the truck driver can easily lose control of the vehicle. In addition, if there is a thick blanket of leaves on the road, it can be difficult for motorists and truck drivers to see the lane lines and other road markings. Truck drivers should take the following steps when driving in an area where may be an accumulation of leaves on the road:
– Reduce driving speed when there are leaves on the ground, particularly when there are curves in the road.
– Leave a greater following distance between the truck and other vehicles on the road. This will give the truck driver plenty of room to stop in an emergency.
– Potholes are often covered up by wet leaves, making it difficult for truck drivers to avoid them.
– When driving through a residential area, truck drivers need to use extreme caution. They should never drive through a large pile of leaves by the side of the road. Children often enjoy playing in leaf piles or using them as a hiding place. Truck drivers must slow down, drive around the leaf pile, and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
– Wet leaves can also get stuck on the windshield or stuck to windshield wipers. Trucks should make sure that the windshield is free of debris, and they need to clear away any leaves that may get stuck underneath the windshield wipers.
– Parking the truck over a pile of dry leaves can be a serious fire hazard. When dry leaves come in contact with the exhaust system or the catalytic converter, the dry leaves can easily ignite. Truck drivers should never park their trucks on a leaf pile.
- Sun glare: Because the days are getting shorter, more motorists are on the road during rush hour as the sun is setting. That means that truck drivers and other motorists are at an increased risk of accidents caused by sun glare and other visual impairments. Extreme sun glare can make it virtually impossible to see the road ahead, particularly if the windshield is also dirty. Truck drivers are urged to keep a pair of quality sunglasses in the truck at all times and keep their windshields clean and free of any debris. In addition, truck drivers must also ensure that their headlights are working properly.
- Deer crossings: Fall is deer season, and they are particularly active during dawn and dusk. Truck drivers should use extra caution during this time, particularly when driving through wooded areas where deer are more prevalent and where there are deer crossing signs. Drivers should stay focused, look for deer eyeshine, and reduce driving speed. If a deer or another wild animal crosses the road, the driver should avoid swerving to try to avoid hitting the animal. Hitting an animal is certainly unfortunate, but swerving to avoid the animal is far more dangerous. The truck driver could lose control of the rig and cause a jackknife or rollover accident. This can be devastating if there are other motorists in the vicinity.
- Sudden weather changes: Fall is certainly known for its crisp, cool weather and bright blue skies, but the weather can change suddenly. Rain can quickly turn to ice if the temperatures drop as the sun goes down. The combination of wet leaves and icy rain can be deadly. Fog is another weather-related hazard of which truck drivers should be aware. Low beams should be used when driving in fog, as they aim the beam of light down onto the roadway. Truck drivers have a responsibility to check the weather report every time they hit the road. If inclement weather is in the forecast, they should be prepared to take all appropriate safety precautions.
- Black ice: Although icy roads may be associated with winter, it is a common hazard in the fall as well, owing to the amount of rain that is typical in fall and the fluctuating temperatures. Black ice is particularly dangerous because it is difficult to see. Truck drivers are urged to use extreme caution if there has been a drop in temperature and to be especially careful on bridges, as black ice is common on bridge surfaces.
How Do I Prepare My Truck for the Cold Weather?
Many of the safety hazards that exist during the fall are also a concern during the winter, including black ice, sun glare, and sudden weather changes. Winter brings even colder temperatures, snow, and freezing rain. Therefore, it is crucial that truck drivers take the necessary steps to ensure that their trucks are properly maintained and safe for winter travel. Before hitting the road during the winter months, truck drivers should go through the following maintenance checklist:
- Battery: Truck drivers should check their battery regularly, as it can drain more quickly during the cold weather and it can be more difficult to charge. A handheld battery tester can be used to measure the voltage and check when the battery is fully charged. If a battery is past its expiration date, it should be replaced with a new battery.
- Diesel fuel: Cold weather can cause diesel fuel to turn waxy. This can be prevented by using a blend with a high cetane rating and anti-gel additives every time the tank is filled.
- Cooling system: Truck drivers should pressure test the coolant after letting the engine cool. It should be at 15 to 18 PSI after turning on the heat control valves. Truckers should also inspect the heater and water hoses for wear and tear.
- Fuel filter and water separator: This should be checked every day and drained when the fluid is full. When the filter is due for a change, it should be replaced.
- Engine block heater: Truck drivers who operate diesel-powered trucks should consider using an electric engine block heater. Diesel engines can be more difficult to start in the cold weather.
- Air dryer: This keeps water out of the brake lines, so it is important that it is working properly so that water does not get into the brake lines and freeze.
- Tire pressure: Cold weather can reduce tire pressure, which can impact the tread life, fuel economy, and driver safety.
What Cold Weather Safety Tips Should Truck Drivers Follow?
In addition to keeping their truck well maintained, there are other safety tips that truck drivers should follow during the winter months, including the following:
- Create an emergency kit: If a truck breaks down during the winter, having an emergency kit on hand will help keep the truck driver safe until help arrives. The kit should include extra warm clothing, blankets, a flashlight, first-aid kit, medications, non-perishable food items, water, flares, a bag of salt or sand, chains, a windshield scraper, and extra windshield washer fluid.
- Slow down and use extra caution: When planning a delivery trip during the winter, truck drivers should give themselves extra time in the event of inclement weather. If the weather calls for ice, sleet, or snow, or other severe weather conditions, the U.S. Department of Transportation grants an additional two hours of driving time.
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