“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” …You can almost hear the Christmas carols chiming in your ears. But is it really the most wonderful time of the year? If you’re a truck driver, there are a lot of ups and downs in these months.
On the plus side, there’s a lot of work, and that equates to more money in your pocket. But it’s also a time of increased traffic and tighter deadlines. Things can get a bit stressful. So here are some tips to keep in mind as you navigate the roads this holiday season.
- Don’t skimp on the inspection: Before the season kicks off, conduct a thorough inspection of your truck. You don’t want to be stuck in a snowstorm and find that you’re out of windshield wiper fluid. You’ll also want to check tire pressure, top off all fluids, change the oil and service the radiator and cooling systems.
- Get your emergency kit ready: There’s a good chance you’ll run into bad weather during your haul, especially at this time of year. Be ready for anything with a well-stocked emergency kit in your cab. This should include things like a battery-powered radio, blanket, flashlight, bottled water, fire extinguisher, flares, jumper cables and chains. Also, be sure your first aid kit is fully stocked and ready for anything.
- Leave early: Most truckers run on an especially tight schedule over the holiday season. If they miss their scheduled time at the loading dock, it could equate to a major loss in time and pay. Since there’s usually more traffic on the roads, and you can never be too sure of the weather, leave early to give yourself plenty of time. If you’re stressed out about being late, you’re more likely to make dangerous decisions on the road.
- Travel during daylight hours: Some truckers prefer to travel overnight to avoid traffic. This is a great strategy during most of the year, but you may want to rethink it when there’s a possibility of inclement weather. It’s more difficult to see icy patches and the road in general at night. This can make your trip more difficult.
- Be on the lookout for distracted drivers: There are more fatalities from crashes in the holiday season than there are at any other time of year. So if you want to be cautious, now is the time. From rushing to get to Christmas sales to driving home drunk after a holiday party, you cannot afford to trust other drivers on the road. Look out for people making sudden lane changes and take notice when someone enters your blind spot.
- Don’t break on ice: This is another suggestion that could go without saying, but it’s worth the reminder. Be especially aware of this rule when you’re going uphill in icy conditions.
- Look for runaway truck ramps: You’ll never know when you’ll need one, and you hope you never will, but it may be beneficial to know where the runaway truck ramps are along your route. If you can, have a look at this before you start your journey. It may just give you some peace of mind as you’re navigating windy, hilly terrain.
- Idle in sub-zero temps: When you’re stopped, idle between 900 and 1,000 rpms to keep your engine at an operating temperature. A lower idle can cool the engine and cause the fuel filter to freeze.
- Fill ‘er up: Always keep your gas tank more than halfway full to avoid freezing. It’s not the gas that’s at risk of freezing, but when your tank is less than halfway full, there could be condensation that freezes.
- Take caution on bridges: Never forget that bridges and overpasses freeze faster than the typical highway. If possible, avoid hitting the brakes while you’re on a bridge or overpass in freezing temperatures. There may be instances where you have no other choice, but you should try your best. If there’s ice, your truck could jackknife.
- Park smart: If you must park on snow, roll the truck back and forth a few times to cool the tires. If you park on snow with hot tires, the snow will melt and can become ice. The packed snow on your tires will also give you some traction for when you’re ready to roll again.
- Map out alternate routes ahead of time: Google Maps can be a lifesaver, but it doesn’t quite have the logic you do. Check the weather in advance of your trip, so you can avoid dicey road conditions. For example, if there’s a route that helps you avoid a bridge in freezing rain, take it. Even if it takes you out of your way, you may end up saving time in the long haul.
- Always plan ahead: Don’t rely solely on your GPS to get you where you have to go. Before you get on any highway, know which exit you will get off (by name and number). This way, you can look out for the signs as you’re driving. Doing this will help ensure you don’t miss your exit, and it will also keep you from having to cut across three lanes of traffic to exit the highway.
- Stay alert: This advice seems obvious, but it bears mentioning. You may have picked up some bad driving habits throughout the year, but now is not the time to mess around. Keep your cell phone carefully stowed away and take as many rests as you think you’ll need.
- Stay back: You can’t control other people’s reckless driving in slippery conditions, but you can do everything in your power to avoid a collision. You already know that your truck takes longer to come to a stop than a car. But it takes even longer when the roads are slick. Stay a safe distance away from the car or truck in front of you and be sure to travel at a safe speed.
- Buckle that belt: Trucking can be a dangerous profession. In fact, truck wrecks account for 25 percent of all work-related deaths, and nearly half occurred because the driver didn’t wear a seatbelt. This one’s a no-brainer. We already know that there are more crashes at this time of year, so let’s be smart and prepared for anything.
- Keep about two days’ worth of food and water in the cab: Most of us don’t prepare for the worst because we don’t think the worst will happen. Unfortunately, sometimes the worst does happen, so it’s best to be prepared. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as they say. The extra food will help if you get stuck for an extended period. It may also help if traffic is especially bad.
Are you excited for the holiday season yet? Sure, there may be some obstacles to overcome and preparations to handle, but it is a magical time filled with all the overtime you can handle.
Follow these safety tips to make the most of the season and have a very happy holiday!