The essential HGV winter drivers’ survival guide
Winter weather can cause havoc on the roads. Ice, snow, wind, fog and the cold can all feel like a challenge designed to test a driver’s professionalism. It demands that even the best take extra care so check out our handy HGV winter driving guide
With weather experts predicting another Beast from the East this winter (AKA Beast 2.0), it looks like our reserves and skills and patience are about to be tested once again.
With that in mind, we’ve scoured the web for the best advice out there to ensure that you stay safe and warm whilst out on the roads this winter.
“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best”.
It goes without saying that when preparing for longer winter drives you must be ready for any and every scenario.
This is something they know a lot about in Alaska, where HGV drivers face some of the toughest conditions on Earth.
We’ve taken a few tips from the Alaska Road Service Agency (ARSA), leaving out a few of the more extreme items such as flare guns. After all, if anyone is going to know about driving in chilly conditions, it’s them!
Here’s what they always recommend having close by:
Salt and shovel
Minor roads may not get gritted. In such scenarios, you could potentially get stuck. Some salt or sand for the road along with a shovel will be invaluable in assisting you to get moving again.
ARSA recommend the following winter kit in all cabs: bottled water, energy bars or other non-perishable food, first aid supplies, gloves, a blanket, a “Help” sign and a flashlight (torch in English!). “Should your vehicle stop working and you are stranded, this kit will help keep you safe and comfortable”.
The Canadian Government also makes a good point. “Travel with a fully charged phone in wintery conditions”. Plenty of cabs will have a 12/24v socket or USB port for charging whilst on the move, too.
Alternatively, you might want to invest in a “power bank” – essentially a 2nd battery that you can connect to charge your device whilst out and about with no access to a power source. These cost from about £5 and, depending on size, can store several full-charges worth of electricity.
Sight and Traction check:
ARSA say: “It’s crucial to be able to see where you are going at all times while on the road. If your line of sight is blocked due to rain, snow or debris, you could be in danger of an accident.
Before the weather turns poor, replace your windshield wipers and check to make sure that your defroster is in working order.” You should be checking these things during your daily checks but pay extra attention to them when it starts to get cold.
#2 Keeping an eye on the weather
The weather can turn pretty quickly which means it’s very possible that you might set off on a clear frosty morning only to find yourself miles from the nearest town as sleet and fog settle in reducing your visibility and driving speed.
Keeping an eye on the weather forecast can help you make decisions on the best and safest possible routes for the weather conditions.
Thankfully, you can now get real-time (generally accurate) weather forecasts on your phone with some great apps
Our top 5 weather apps
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The Weather Channel
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#3 Increased vehicle inspections
You will want to adjust your regular checks on your vehicle to be more frequent in more extreme weather. Some issues (e.g. fluid leaks) may only become apparent when the engine has warmed, for example, so be vigilant and don’t just assume that if it was OK in the morning, it’ll be OK for the whole day.
It can be tempting, when it’s raining or cold out to skip the pre-check of the external of the vehicle, however, that is when it is most important to do it.
When it comes to winter, most dangers come from low visibility and loss of traction on the road.
The Canadian Government cites these 5 hazards as the most dangerous and offers the following advice.
A dangerous road condition, it presents itself as a thin layer of transparent ice that often makes the road look slightly wet.
One thing to look for when driving is the spray of the cars in front of you. If their spray stops this could be a sign of black ice on the road.
If you do find your vehicle losing traction on black ice, remove your foot from the accelerator (do not touch the brake), then as the tyres find grip gently steer in the direction of the skid.
Heavy fog can limit visibility to a few feet or even less. Use your lights, slow down and turn on your windscreen wipers and demisters to keep your vision in the cab as clear as possible.
Heavy rain limits visibility massively. If you are struggling to see the road in front of you clearly slow down to a speed you feel is safe.
Keep a good distance between the car in front of you as the roads will also be wet and there is a danger of aquaplaning (where tyres lose traction due to water on the surface of the road).
Elevated structures are often narrower than other parts of the road, freeze first, and are not always treated with salt to melt ice or snow. Always slow down and approach them with extra caution.
Sometimes weather conditions become so treacherous that you need to just stop and wait for the worst of it to pass. However, it’s important to find a safe place to stop.
Pull over at the side of the road and be aware of the possibility that others on the road may not see your parked vehicle until it’s too late. Always try and reach the next service station, lay-by or refuge area to wait the weather out.
#5 Driving style
The Canadian Safety Council suggest drivers make the following adjustments to their driving style when experiencing extreme weather.
Most accidents in freezing conditions occur because drivers are going too fast. This is especially applicable for HGV drivers who take longer to bring their vehicles to a halt.
When it comes to driving in extreme weather it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
Remember, speed limit signs are maximums, not guidelines!
Allow extra space
Because of the increased stopping time in bad weather, it’s best to leave extra space between you and other drivers on the road.
During ice and snow allow as much as ten times the normal stopping distance.
It’s best to keep a consistent and steady speed when driving in poor conditions as sudden or sharp movements can cause you to quickly lose control.
Poor weather often comes with decreased traction which lowers your overall control of the vehicle.
Maintain a steady speed, don’t make any sudden turns and keep a comfortable distance between you and the vehicle in front to allow for plenty of time to react appropriately.
Extreme weather conditions are almost certainly on their way, making winter driving harder and more dangerous for you and everyone around you. So remember that preparation and planning are the key to good safety.
Taking the right precautions, being prepared and knowing how to react you will help reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring and be an asset to other drivers on the road.