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Winter Driving Tips for Truck Drivers

January 9, 2020 by Steven M. Gursten

Winter Driving Tips For Truck Drivers | Michigan Auto Law

Winter weather is officially here, and that means it’s time for my winter driving tips for truck drivers.

Because winter driving for truck drivers and drivers of large commercial motor vehicles creates special hazards, it is critical for both their protection and protection of the driving public that safety is always the #1 concern.

Winter Driving Tips for Truck Drivers During Their Pre-Trip Inspection

Let’s begin our discussion of winter driving tips for truck drivers by focusing on a procedure that starts before they actually start driving. This procedure is the pre-trip inspection.

Truckers must conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection to make sure their truck or commercial motor vehicle is safe. This is always important, but it becomes even more so with winter driving.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) require the following in terms of pre-trip inspections:

  • “No commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver is satisfied that the [brakes, steering, lighting, wheels and tires, mirrors and horn] are in good working order, nor shall any driver fail to use or make use of such parts and accessories when and as needed . . . ” (FMCSR §392.7(a))
  • “Before driving a motor vehicle, the driver shall . . . [b]e satisfied that the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition . . .” (FMCSR §396.13(a))

With a focus on winter driving tips for truck drivers, I recommend that all truckers and drivers of commercial motor vehicles pay special attention to the following systems and items below when conducting their pre-trip inspections during the winter months:

  • The truck’s coolant and antifreeze levels.
  • The defrost and heating equipment.
  • Windshield wipers and windshield washer fluid levels.
  • Use a gauge to make sure their tires’ tread depths are sufficient to provide the traction necessary to ensure the vehicle can safely operate on snow and ice. (Note: Front tires must have at least 4/32-inch tread depth in every major groove whereas all other tires must have at least 2/32-inch tread depth)
  • If you find yourself in a situation where driving is not possible without chains, ensure you’re carrying the right number of chains and extra cross links that fit the drive tires.
  • Lights and reflectors are especially important during winter driving. They also ensure the truck’s windows and mirrors are clear.
  • To protect your own personal safety, make sure all ice and snow is removed from handholds, steps and deck plates.
  • Make sure exhaust-system connections are all fitted and functioning properly, as cab ventilation is poorer during the winter as a result of the windows being rolled up. This helps prevent the danger of accidental carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Unfortunately, as a truck accident lawyer, the pre-trip inspection is where I often see shortcuts being made by drivers. To be clear, after 25 years of litigating over 300 truck accident cases, these shortcuts are often forced on truckers by their own company’s safety managers who force truckers to skip many of these mandatory safety pre-trip inspections (and drive over their hours of service, etc.). A large number of my own truck accident cases over the years have been representing injured truckers who are put at risk by their own companies, which is why I can’t stress enough the importance of these winter driving tips for truck drivers.

Winter Driving Tips for Truck Drivers Once They Are On the Road

Truck drivers are professional drivers for a reason: Driving a big rig truck is a very difficult job. The size and weight of these vehicles, and the much greater propensity for harm that they can cause, requires much more training to operate these “moving brick walls” than it does to operate a passenger car.

Driving on snow- and ice-covered roads and highways makes this training even more important. Truckers must always drive in compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s mandatory safety mandate requiring that truckers exercise “extreme caution” when faced with “hazardous conditions” while driving:

“Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.” (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) §392.14)

Although the “extreme caution in hazardous conditions” rule specifically mentions the winter conditions of snow, ice and sleet, it also includes winter driving conditions that involve high winds and rain that can “adversely affect visibility and traction.”

The bottom line of these winter driving tips for truck drivers is that they must be constantly monitoring and evaluating the winter weather they are driving in and be ready to slow down and drive below the speed limit and to stop driving altogether until winter weather conditions become safe enough to resume driving. Safety is always job #1 and it is never acceptable to take unnecessary risks with other people’s lives – or your own.

Winter Driving Tips for Truck Drivers Include ‘No Distractions’

It is always the case that truck drivers are required and expected to eliminate texting and cellphone distractions when they are driving.

However, the bans on texting and using a cellphone while driving a truck or commercial vehicle are even more significant when truck drivers are faced with the added challenge of driving during the winter. This is why I am placing special emphasis on the texting and cellphone bans and including them among my winter driving tips for truck drivers.

Specifically, the bans prohibit the following:

  • Truck drivers are prohibited from “texting while driving” and motor carriers are prohibited from allowing or requiring drivers “to engage in texting while driving.” (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) §392.80)
  • Truck drivers are prohibited from using “a hand-held mobile telephone while driving” a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) and motor carriers are prohibited from allowing or requiring drivers “to use a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a CMV.” (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) §392.82)

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