Even for the most experienced drivers, hauling a semi trailer on snowy or icy roads poses some significant challenges. From increased stopping distances to poor visibility, winter weather greatly increases the risk of an accident. And, of course, winter storms can move in quickly and turn dry pavement into a treacherous “skating rink” in a matter of minutes.
Fortunately, your awareness of a handful of winter driving best practices can help keep you, your cargo and the other vehicles you’re sharing the road with safe.
The Physics of Transporting a Semi Trailer in Winter
Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist, mathematician and astronomer. Born in 1643, he was not—as far as we know—a truck driver! However, his “first law of motion” is very important to anyone transporting a semi trailer, particularly in winter.
It says, in part, that “an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” That unbalanced force for a trucker is the friction produced by a rig’s brakes and/or steering and the contact between its tires and the asphalt. When ice or snow on the road decreases that friction, a truck and trailer obey the first law and continue in the same direction.
Anyone who has ever driven any vehicle on snowy or icy roads understands this. But it’s important to remember that you can’t stop your rig or create more friction through force of will. Your only countermeasures for slick roads are being cautious and prepared to brake or steer much more in advance than normal.
Use These Strategies Hauling a Semi Trailer on Slippery Roads
It only takes a drop of a few degrees to completely change roads from wet to icy, snowy and slick. Use the 10 strategies below to ensure you’re prepared and ready to react appropriately.
- Check your equipment. Everything from antifreeze and windshield washer solution to tire pressure can affect your ability to handle your rig safely. Be sure to do a thorough check before you hit the road. Having to pull off the highway to address an issue comes with risk in any weather. In winter weather, that risk is greatly increased. This tip is especially important if you’re leasing or renting a semi trailer. It’s vital that you be familiar with the trailer and its specs and features.
- Have winter weather supplies with you. Should you be involved in an accident or find yourself on a roadway that’s been closed, you want to be sure to have items like warm clothes, blankets, food and water, a flashlight, tire chains, a shovel, some sand to help with traction, etc.
- Slow down. You must drive at a speed that’s appropriate for the weather. And that means as soon as the weather hits. Too often, drivers try to maintain a normal speed thinking that they will slow down once they encounter traffic or an accident. It’s much safer to adjust your speed as soon as the snow starts to fall or the roads start to ice over.
- Leave a much larger buffer between you and the cars ahead of you. Having ample space to slow or stop your rig is the only thing that’s going to keep you from colliding with other vehicles. The stopping distance required on snowy or icy roads can be many times greater than that on dry pavement. And, while you may be using safe driving practices, there’s no guarantee that other drivers are. One mistake and the car in front of you can go into a slide or spin with your rig bearing down on it.
- Pay attention to lights—yours and theirs. It’s important that your lights be on and that you clear them of snow whenever you stop for gas or food. It’s also essential to be vigilant about the vehicles around you. Many drivers will forget to turn on their headlights when suddenly faced with challenging conditions, so you should never assume that no tail lights in front of you means no vehicle in front of you.
- Observe your tires. Seasoned truckers know that when their tires go from sending up lots of spray to less spray, that can mean that the roadway is icing up and a slower speed is needed.
- Brake and steer gradually. Applying your brakes or turning your steering wheel abruptly can cause your rig to go into an uncontrollable slide. Be as smooth as possible when attempting to alter your course. And, keep in mind that in some scenarios, using evasive maneuvers may be more effective than braking.
- Keep the load in your semi trailer in mind. How your rig handles is affected by the weight of your semi trailer. Hauling a loaded trailer on slick roads is a much different experience than hauling an empty one.
- Never assume anything about road conditions or other drivers. That patch of road ahead looks to be free of snow, so maybe it’s not slippery. But maybe it’s covered in black ice. That other driver appears to be coming to a stop at the intersection, so maybe I can proceed through. But maybe they have no intention of stopping and no ability to do so even if they wanted to.
- When in doubt, get off the road. If the weather gets bad enough, no amount of caution is going to protect you and your rig sufficiently. While nobody wants to miss delivery deadlines, being involved in an accident will have that result plus property damage and, potentially, injuries.
Insist on a Well-Maintained Semi Trailer
The last thing you need when driving in winter weather is to be hauling a rented or leased semi trailer that hasn’t been properly maintained or is in disrepair. Your team should definitely inspect any rented or leased equipment before you use it. But you also want to work with a semi trailer rental or leasing company that has a reputation for providing only high-quality equipment.
To learn more about our inventory of flatbed, liftgate, reefers and dry van semi trailers for rent or lease, contact us today.