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How Much Slower Should Trucks Travel in Wintery Conditions?

Published on Apr 5, 2022 at 11:55 am in Truck Accidents.

snow on trucks

As Illinois drivers, we are all too familiar with the winter weather and how it can make driving more dangerous than during the warmer summer months. It is not just up to passenger vehicle drivers to exercise caution in unsafe driving conditions, though. Big rig and, semi-tractor trailer and other truck drivers also need to do their part to keep everyone on the roads safe during wintertime.

There are many actions that truck drivers can take to be safer, but perhaps one of the most important is to simply slow down. But exactly how much slower should trucks travel in wintery conditions? That depends on what type of weather and road conditions a driver is presented with. However, one important piece of advice sticks out—slower is almost always better.

Types of Wintery Weather Conditions

Winter officially runs from late Dec. through late March, but most of Illinois gets its first day of snow well before the season is underway, and experience shows that it often snows into April. If you have spent any time at all in the Midwest, you might already be familiar with the different types of wintery weather that so often make you think twice before getting behind the wheel of your vehicle:

  • Snow – Slippery roads and limited visibility when it is actively snowing create a dangerous combination for drivers. Packed down snow from other vehicles’ tires can also create slick conditions that may cause truck drivers to lose control.
  • Ice – Ice can form in a variety of weather conditions and may even be the result of snow melting during the day and then refreezing at night. Losing control is unfortunately all too common with ice. It is also not uncommon for a layer of ice to be hiding underneath snow.
  • Slush – Slushy roadways are especially hazardous. This combination of snow, ice, dirt, and other sediment drastically reduces traction on the road as well as your tires. Your risk of spinning out is significantly higher when driving on slush.

You should also watch out for wet roads during the winter. Even if the temperature is not yet freezing, certain types of roads may still freeze. Be especially cautious on overpasses, bridges, and roads underneath overpasses.

Why Should Trucks Slow Down?

Truck drivers should always slow down when traveling in areas where the roads are covered in snow, ice, or slush. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cautions that truck drivers should reduce their speeds by half or more when traveling on roads packed with snow.

As an example, if a truck driver would normally travel at 60 mph on a road in perfect conditions, they should slow down to 30 mph when snow is present.

Cutting travel speed down by half might not always be enough, though. Big trucks already take longer to brake than smaller passenger vehicles. When an 18-wheeler is going 55 mph in ideal driving conditions, it takes 196 feet to come to a complete stop after applying the brakes. The time it takes a fully loaded truck to come to a complete stop on snowy, icy, or slushy roads is significantly longer.

When conditions are tricky, reducing speeds by more than half is a good idea.

Since braking takes longer, truck drivers should also maintain longer distances between other vehicles to help limit the risk of causing an accident during poor driving conditions. When heavy snow is falling and visibility ahead is low, truck drivers should avoid following taillights in front of them. If a truck driver is able to see the taillights of a leading car during low visibility, even distantly, they are following much too closely.

The roads do not necessarily have to be covered in snow, ice, or slush for a truck driver to take precautions, either. Braking distances are also longer on wet roads, which is why the FMCSA encourages truck drivers to cut their speeds by a third when the roads are wet. Since wet roads can quickly turn to icy roads during the winter, truck drivers should always exercise caution by slowing down and increasing distance between other vehicles.

Other Wintery Condition Precautions

Understanding how much slower trucks should travel in wintery conditions is only one part of being safe on snowy or icy roads. To limit the risk for serious accidents, truck drivers should also:

  • Brake Cautiously – Avoid slamming on the brakes when the roads are snowy, icy, slushy, or wet. Truck drivers are much more likely to lose control or spin out when braking suddenly than if they apply slow, gradual pressure to the brakes.
  • Avoid Jerking the Wheel – Much like braking, a sudden steering movement increases the risk of losing control.
  • Carry Sand or Kitty Litter – The heat from stopped or parked trucks can melt and condense snow down into ice or slush. Having sand or kitty litter on hand can create the traction necessary to get going again.
  • Avoid Traveling in a Pack – Traffic often moves in small groups or packs on interstates and highways. This can be dangerous when road conditions are anything less than ideal. Slowing down even more to move away from the pack is one way truck drivers can protect others around them.
  • Pull Over – There are times when it is simply not safe to drive. When the snow or ice makes safe passage impossible, truck drivers should pull over to a safer location to wait for better conditions.

Trucking Accidents in Wintery Weather Conditions

Truck drivers should always be aware of road conditions and drive for the weather. How much slower trucks should travel during wintery conditions will largely depend on whether there is snow, ice, slush, or a mix on the roads. Unfortunately, some truck drivers do not take winter weather as seriously as they should.

If you were injured because a truck driver ignored these basic safety rules for winter weather, you may need help recovering compensation for your damages. This includes things like pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, and even emotional trauma. While this all might feel overwhelming, you can schedule a free consultation with Schweickert, Ganassin, Krzak, Rundio LLP to discuss your accident with one of our compassionate, experienced truck accident attorneys.

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