No load is worth your life – by Ken Davey


Do get your truck ready. Don’t put it off and wait until you’re caught in a dangerous situation.

Everywhere there are lots of “tips” on getting your truck ready for winter. The reason is simple. A small mechanical annoyance in nice summer weather becomes a life threatening breakdown in harsh winter conditions.Harder to find are ‘tips’ for getting yourself ready for winter.Getting you truck ready for winter is the minimum any trucker should. Getting you self ready is what the experienced real professional driver does.

Do get your truck ready. Don’t put it off and wait until you’re caught in a dangerous situation.In summer, a bald tire is not safe for lots of reasons. In winter, you can add to that list of reasons by considering it can causer you to jackknife. Get everything in tip top shape on your truck in September.

Given that your truck is ready for winter, the first thing you need to do is prepare your physical self. Always travel with a small tool kit, Hi-Vis clothes, warm clothes, boots and gloves and an extra 2 days food and water. In extreme weather you need to be able to keep warm without your truck running. Every year in the Rockies we see a highway shutdown that last 2 days and some unfortunate trucker trapped by a slide or accident. And it is not just the Rockies that have extreme weather. Make sure you can survive without freezing to death in the event that your truck cannot run for some reason.

Now that your rig is ready, and your life is protected from the weather it is time to look at your attitude. There needs to be a change in your thinking. In winter driving is different. It is different than summer driving for 2 reasons. The first, as you might expect is because of the external conditions of extreme weather, the darkness, the cold, the ice and snow. The second issue is your body clock.These 2 factors combine to make winter truck driving doubly dangerous.

The additional hours of darkness acts on your body causing you to want to sleep more. Not just that, it will make you less alert, actually drowsy as your body reminds you to get sleep. It will also make it harder for you to wake up; especially if you are getting up wile it is still dark. Second, the winter conditions cause you to go slower and get fewer miles and less money even though you are working longer hours and driving in more stressful conditions much of the time. This additional stress can make it hard for drowsy drivers to get to sleep and can reduce the quality of your sleep further compounding the problem.

In summer, your attitude is affected and actually influenced in a positive direction by the control you have on your rig and your running times. You can squeeze out a few extra miles or hours because you feel good, and are in control. In winter you attitude has to be more passive in that that you need to respect that winter is really in control and you need to expect that physically you can do less.

These factors all come together when a driver, who may be completely legal to drive on log book time, is actually a little drowsy because of possible accumulated sleep debt and the darkness signaling his body clock to shut down.You’re not too tired to drive but you are driving less actively and not constantly looking at conditions or for hazards. The weather or road is suddenly very bad, either because you weren’t watching conditions or there is a sudden change in conditions. You feel pressure to continue because you have a load that must deliver on time or you need to get home for some reason. You might even be worried about this months pay cheque because you have been sitting a lot. Forget all that when the road conditions are very bad. You have to remember that stopping is an option and you need to decide if you should continue or stop. Do not just blindly continue.

Here is what should go into the decision to stop or go in bad weather. Your primary responsibility is always to control the vehicle. No matter what a customer or dispatcher tells you, you have to decide if the road is safe. Consider your truck, your load and its weight distribution and the conditions. Simply following a friend or the truck in front of you is not a safe practice. That truck has a different load, different tires and a driver with different experience. Be honest with your self about how tired you are and what your driving experience is like. A bad load on a bad road at night when you are tired is the wrong time to gain experience for anything other than learning how expensive an accident is. Remember what you have at stake. If you run off the road it will cost you. On most fleets a Jackknife accident will cost 7 to 10 thousand in the insurance deductible and 20 to 40 thousand in down time. You could be killed or seriously injured. No load is worth you life… or anyone else’s.

When the going gets tough the tough get going – but the smart and profitable consider their options.

If you are fresh enough and you believe the conditions are of short duration, chain up. Ensure you have a safe place to put on the chains and while chained do not exceed 50kph. Once past the extreme hazard, find a safe place to remove the chains.

If things are so bad you feel unsafe to continue, pull over. Find a pullout, a ramp, a brake check, even a mall parking lot to park at. It needs to be relatively flat and away from traffic lanes. The level place is important because if it snows all night you may be stuck in the morning if you have to move against even a small uphill slope. As soon as you stop, call your dispatcher. Tell them where you are and what your plans are. Even if your company does not have 24 hour dispatch, call and leave a message. The customer needs to know right away why you are late and how late you plan on being.

By morning, usually the highway has been plowed and sanded, you are rested and the daylight makes driving easier, even if it is still snowing. Delivering on time is best. However, delivering late beats not delivering at all.