The United States relies heavily on the trucking industry, which is responsible for the vast majority of product transportation. About 70 percent of all products are transported via truck. Because of this heavy reliance on trucking, many owner-operators and carriers have to learn how to navigate rough weather and driving conditions.
23 percent of fatal crashes were due to drivers losing control of their truck
There are many factors that can lead to collisions on the road, including inclement weather. And while you can’t control the weather, you can control how you prepare for it. So, why is it important to prepare for inclement weather? Knowing what to do in dangerous weather conditions is important to keep yourself and other motorists safe on the road.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), you need to exercise extreme caution when driving in adverse weather conditions, as visibility and traction can be compromised. During these conditions, you’re required to reduce your speed, and if conditions become too dangerous, immediately stop until the vehicle can be operated safely.
But what kinds of inclement weather can impact your operation? Weather obstacles that may impact your ability to safely operate your truck may include:
Wind storms and tornadoes: Trucks are notoriously top-heavy, which increases the risk of tipping over on the road during high winds. The risk of tipping is high, especially during strong or unpredictable winds.
Heavy rain, ice, or snow: A hydroplaning truck is incredibly dangerous. Rain, snow, and ice can all lead to hydroplaning or sliding, as they make road surfaces slippery. Ice is particularly dangerous, since it affects a truck’s traction. When you’re traveling at high speeds, this lack of traction compromises your ability to brake or steer.
Thunderstorms: Lightning or thunder can be startling, and may lead you to slam on your brakes, which can lead to losing control of your truck.
Fog: When it’s foggy out, you may face poor visibility. It’s crucial to use headlights and taillights correctly in foggy conditions so you’re able to see other motorists, and they’re able to see you.
But these are not the only weather-related risks that owner-operators may face on the road.
Over the past few years, wildfires have presented notable threats, particularly for small carriers and owner-operators who work on the West Coast. Freight movement often stops or slows and operating in areas with thick smoke makes it dangerous to breathe and impacts overall visibility as well.
Defensive Driving: Stay vigilant for unexpected hazards, road conditions, and distracted drivers. Scan the road ahead for any upcoming issues, work zones, or other dangers. Check your mirrors every 8 to 10 seconds to keep tabs on vehicles that may be in one of your blind spots.
Signal your intent: Use your signals to notify other motorists of your intent to brake or merge. Signal early so that other drivers on the road have plenty of time to respond safely. You should use signals like reflective triangles, flashers, and road flares once you have pulled off the road so you are easily visible to oncoming traffic.
Slow down: Regardless of what the weather is like outside, the faster you drive, the less time you have to react to potential hazards. Adjust your speed in inclement weather to account for changing traction and visibility; this precaution will help prevent rollovers, crashes, and spills.
Maintain your vehicle: A safe truck is a well-maintained truck. Take some time before each trip to complete a safety inspection. Examine your tires and brakes for any potential issues, and double-check your load is well secured and balanced to prevent cargo shifting while you’re on the road.
Buckle Up: Always wear your seat belt. They save lives, reduce injuries, and allow you to stay inside and in control of your vehicle in the event of a crash.
Get Rest and Stay Alert: Operators should be sure they are sleeping enough and not driving while fatigued or too sick to focus on the road.
Plan Wisely and Stay Up-to-Date: Before driving, check weather and road conditions.
Stay vigilant in work zones: Work zones are ripe with potential hazards. Whether it’s other motorists trying to figure out traffic patterns or uneven road surfaces, you need to stay extra alert when driving through these zones. Keep tabs on traffic flow so you can keep a safe distance from other motorists, and remember to signal your intent.
Never Drive Distracted: Texting is one of the worst driving distractions and the odds of being in a crash, near-crash, or unintentional lane deviation are 23.2 times higher for truck and bus operators who are texting while driving. Other distractions include eating, drinking, interacting with a navigational device, map reading, or any other activity that pulls a driver’s focus away from the road.
How Weather Can Impact Your Freight Shipment
Even if inclement weather is only happening in one pocket of the country, it can quickly demonstrate how interconnected the freight industry is throughout the nation. Bad weather can trigger a far-reaching ripple effect that impacts carriers, regardless of location, through shipping delays and skyrocketing costs.
It’s a good idea to understand the ways that bad weather can affect your business as a small carrier or owner-operator so you can anticipate and plan for potential problems. These issues include:
Bad Road Conditions: Flooding, ice, or snow can affect road conditions and cause road closures. In these cases, alternate routes may be necessary, which can extend your transit time. Even though this is frustrating, you must always choose safety first.
Guarantees and Expedited Shipping: Guaranteed or expedited shipping is an additional cost, and that means these shipments go to the top of a carrier’s priority list. When unexpected weather conditions disrupt safe travel and timing, nothing is guaranteed. Instead of risking hazardous conditions, be aware of weather conditions along the route and manage expectations when it comes to estimated transit times.
Power Outages: Inclement weather like tornadoes, hurricanes, and ice storms can lead to power outages; these outages can make it difficult to communicate and share updates. If you’re expecting harsh weather conditions and potential power outages, make sure to have a contingency plan on how to stay in contact with your dispatcher or other teammates. Transportation management software can help you stay on track and communicate with shippers and merchants, but take caution when traveling through areas with power outages or other interruptions.
Capacity Limitations: Natural disasters can influence how many trucks are available to transport freight. The effect these weather events has on capacity can impact freight rates.
Remember to take basic safety precautions such as wearing a seatbelt, slowing down, and not using your phone while driving. Inclement weather can include hurricanes, winter weather, wildfires, and flooding.
Stay in Communication
Communication is key for ensuring safety and maintaining good relationships with customers. Weather may cause a minor disruption as carriers need to slow down, but in more severe instances, entire roads or gas stations may be closed. Carriers should be aware of upcoming weather forecasts and be prepared to get off the road to ensure their safety. However, if you have to pull off the road unexpectedly due to weather, some tools offer GPS tracking so you and your vehicles’ exact location can be pinpointed so you can get assistance if needed.
Handling Dangerous Road Conditions
Bad weather can mean more than just an inconvenience for small carriers and owner-operators; it can lead to dangerous driving conditions on flat roads, and makes traveling through mountainous terrains or inclines even more treacherous. Adverse weather can result in delays, accidents, shutdowns, and even fatalities. Here are some tips on how to handle different types of dangerous weather conditions:
Operators and carriers should have some kind of temperature gauge to track conditions. The best piece of advice for navigating freezing rain is that when you see ice forming on your windshield or mirrors, or there’s precipitation and you notice the temperature dropping, get off the road immediately; do not wait for conditions to worsen to do so.
When weather forecasters are predicting heavy snow, be prepared with snow chains on board. If weather conditions get too bad, get off the road. Be prepared with extra warm clothes, food, and water in case it takes several hours or days for plows to clear the roads.
Strong crosswinds are a recipe for disaster for large trucks. When windy conditions arise, get off the road immediately and head to a truck stop if possible. There, you can park between two van trailers for additional protection. Be aware that windy, icy conditions can turn roads into a solid, slippery sheet of ice.
Dust storms can be hard to predict. If you encounter a storm, pull over and wait it out, and be sure to keep your windows closed. This is a good opportunity to rest until the dust storm passes.
Hail can occur during heavy thunderstorms and has the potential to damage the body and windshield of your vehicle. Take note that hail can affect your visibility. Also, avoid using your jake brake during a hailstorm, as roads can be more slippery than normal.
Excess heat can be hard on your vehicle and can even melt the rubber on your tires. Over time, your engine can overheat, and your fan-clutch can work overtime to compensate. If you push your truck too hard in excess heat, your engine temperature can soar and cause serious motor damage. You could even end up broken down in a remote location. On very hot days, park during the hottest part of the day and travel during the evening when temperatures are cooler if you’re able to.
Stay vigilant of excessively cold temperatures, which can impact your engine’s ability to start back up. It may be better to idle your engine rather than turn it off and allow the engine to cool to very low temperatures.
Tornadoes can be very dangerous for carriers and operators. Always check weather conditions each day and be aware of what lies ahead. If conditions turn, seek shelter immediately and do not park under an overpass.
Dense fog can make visibility nearly impossible. When visibility starts to decline, it’s time to find a safe place to park. Avoid stopping on the shoulder of the road, as this can potentially confuse vehicles behind you. Turn your flashers on and get off the road as quickly as possible. Remember that parking on the shoulder of an off-ramp is safer than parking on the shoulder of the road.
Preparing for Inclement Weather with Xpress Technologies
Severe weather conditions can impact freight transportation operations all year long. Communication is key for ensuring safety and maintaining good relationships with customers.
With Xpress Technologies, communication is always just a tap away: owner-operators can call a broker directly from the app or share their live location with the customer, so everyone is aware of the status of the shipment. Weather can cause a minor disruption as carriers need to slow down, but in more severe instances, entire roads may close, dramatically increasing transit time and cost. Carriers should be aware of upcoming weather predictions and be prepared to get off the road to ensure their safety if needed.
Knowing how to prepare for inclement weather is critical, but owner-operators should also know how to prepare for more severe natural disasters as well.
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