As winter weather rolls into Oklahoma, it is important for motorist to prepare themselves to safely share the road with 18-wheelers in inclement weather. Driving on snow-covered or icy roads can pose serious challenges, even for the most experienced drivers. This is especially true for professional drivers driving large tractor-trailers. Because of the size of the tractor-trailers and the hazards such vehicles pose to passenger vehicles, these drivers are held to higher standards when obtaining a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). Professional drivers are taught how to safely operate their vehicles in hazardous conditions such as rain, sleet, snow, or ice. For instance, the Oklahoma Commercial Drivers License Manual states truck drivers should reduce speed by about one-third when driving on a wet road. On snowy roads truck drivers are instructed to reduce their speed by half or more. If the surface is icy or snow-covered, they should reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as possible. In addition to this guidance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) requires truck drivers to exercise extreme caution while driving in bad weather.
Maneuvering an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer can be extremely difficult when road conditions are impacted by rain, snow, sleet, and ice, and have the potential to cause catastrophic injuries. Such vehicles can kick up large amounts of water and snow, creating visibility issues for passenger vehicles, can disrupt airflow and amplify the effects of windy conditions, and pose a significant lane departure or rollover risk in the sort of windy conditions that frequently accompany winter weather. These are just some of the reasons why truck drivers are taught specific rules and techniques for driving in adverse conditions. Remember, all drivers have a responsibility to drive carefully, truck drivers are held to higher standards through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
Unlike most motorists, professional drivers are often provided real-time weather, road, and traffic conditions by their dispatchers,. Some truck drivers even have electronic systems that provide detailed weather information directly to the driver. Safe and responsible and trucking companies and their drivers utilize these technological advantages to ensure they comply with their duty to exercise extreme caution when operating a vehicle in poor weather. Unfortunately, not all trucking companies take seriously their responsibility to ensue their drivers are properly educated and trained on these important safety considerations. Other times financial considerations and the pressure to make deliveries on-time means some companies and their drivers will disregard their obligations, putting motorists at risk.
If you are sharing the road with a tractor-trailer during wintery conditions remember to give yourself extra space, use your lights and flashers to make sure you are visible, and exercise caution when driving near or overtaking a tractor-trailer.
Ultimately, the best advice is to stay off the roads when winter weather strikes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 374 fatal crashes and 25,000 injury crashes in 2020 from driving in wintery conditions.
If you are not able to stay home during winter weather, Fulmer Sill recommends following these additional tips from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for driving in wintry weather:
- Maintain a safe following distance.
- Drive under the speed limit.
- Watch your surroundings.
- Be mindful of possible black ice on roadways.
- Remember that older roadways and bridges become slick more easily.