Know How to Stay Safe on Winter Roadways

cars driving down winter road

As temperatures plunge nationwide, roadways are becoming increasingly dangerous. According to the El Paso Times, Dec. 7 alone saw 200 crashes along an icy stretch of I-10. One of those accidents, occurring about 200 miles east of El Paso, included 10 vehicles, including several tractor-trailers and semi trucks.

The holidays are a time of cheer and excitement, but they can also be a time of hurried traveling and long road trips to see family and friends or to take advantage of winter vacations. This increase in passenger vehicles on the highway is met by an increase in large trucks on the road, as well.

Stores are stocking and re-stocking products in response to an increased demand in consumer goods and groceries. There are more mail delivery trucks on the road due to increased shipping volume. And all of this is happening during a time of shortened days and on roads that can be slick with ice.

We want everyone to reach their holiday destinations safely—traveler and trucker alike. The best way to ensure a safe journey is to be proactive in avoiding unnecessary risks and know what to do when conditions turn poor.

Know What to Expect

Before you leave home, take the time to plan your trip:

  1. Go to the Federal Highway Administration website and taking a look at the conditions of the roadways you plan to travel. Also make sure to check the weather forecast for the possibility of storms. Being informed about your route and what to expect can help you make good decisions about whether travel is safe and how long it will actually take you to reach your destination safely.
  2. Ensure you have ample time by accounting for slower speeds due to ice or snow on the road. Being in a rush puts you and everyone else on the road at an elevated risk of being in an accident.
  3. Try your best to drive only during daylight hours, when visibility is better and conditions tend to be less hazardous.

No matter how well you plan, there is always potential for unexpected weather and road conditions. Know what to do to safely maneuver through these conditions.

Black Ice

One of the most terrifying driving experiences can be unexpectedly hitting black ice. It can send your car careening back and forth across the road, or into a snow bank.

What is it? Black ice is a thin layer of clear ice with very few bubbles, which means it looks almost exactly like the pavement beneath it.

Black ice increases stopping distance by 9x compared to regular pavement. If you hit black ice, the best thing to do is keep the steering wheel straight and take your foot off the gas, but do not hit the brake. If you feel the back end of your car sliding left or right, gently turn the wheel in the same direction. Turning it in the opposite direction will likely send you spinning.

Icy roads can be particularly dangerous for semi trucks and other vehicles on the road with them. Icy conditions can cause dangerous situations such as:

  • Jackknives, which occur when the towing cab skids, causing the trailer to push it from behind. The result is the cab and the trailer folding together while spinning.
  • Trailer swings, which occur when the trailer skids. Most of the time, this is corrected simply by the trailer moving back behind the cab as it continues on. But, if the trailer catches another vehicle in its skid, it can cause a devastating accident. Truck drivers must be very well-versed in the safety procedures for driving in winter conditions to avoid these types of accidents.

Snow Storms

The best way to handle a snow storm while traveling is to pull over at a rest stop, gas station or diner and wait for it to pass. A heated location is ideal for obvious reasons. But, if you must drive:

  • Brush all the snow off your car before you set out
  • Turn on your lights
  • Maintain a slow, consistent speed
  • Stay on the inside lane whenever possible
  • Drive in established tire tracks
  • When you brake, do it slowly and gently
  • Never drive with cruise control

Remember that everything that applies to a car, and more, also applies to the semi trucks you share the road with. Here are a few tips to avoiding an accident with a tractor-trailer:

  • Be patient. If there may be black ice on the road, it is not be the safest time to pass.
  • Leave plenty of room between you and the truck. Multiply your usual following distance by about 9 so that you have time to react in case the truck swerves.
  • If a truck decides to pass you, let it. You can even slow down a little bit to allow them to clear your area more quickly.
  • Do not pass a truck and then slow down. It takes much longer for an 18-wheeler to slow down than it does for a passenger vehicle, and having to brake hard on icy roads can cause a truck to lose control.

Even with Prevention, Accidents Can Occur

While it is wise to do everything in your power to avoid collisions, they can still happen. So it is critical that you understand that semi truck and tractor-trailer drivers and companies have a responsibility to engage in safe driving practices. Drivers must adhere to speed limits, take account of conditions and stay rested and alert. Companies have a responsibility to train and monitor their drivers and ensure all equipment is in good condition.

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident involving a semi truck or another commercial vehicle, contact the Truck Accident Attorneys for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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