It’s hard to believe that another year is coming to a close. As the end of the year is upon on us, the change in seasons will impact highway safety across the United States. Obviously, drivers in Northern Tier states expect a mixed bag of precipitation — rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. But, a cold snap may also leave some motorists and jurisdictions in Southern locations ill-equipped to handle ice and snow.
Be Alert to Risks
Before beginning or continuing with a run, it is important to monitor weather patterns in the regions drivers are traveling. Drivers and dispatchers should be in contact with one another to decide when it is no longer safe to proceed. A driver should never put his or her personal safety at risk to meet an arrival time.
A challenge drivers experience all year long, and more so during bad weather, is fellow motorists. Even though professional drivers may be trained on winter driving maneuvers, others on the road may not be as confident or skilled. It is important to employ defensive driving techniques, including speed and space management and increased stopping distance. To minimize skids, remind drivers to carefully and smoothly accelerate, brake, and steer.
The Right Equipment & Supplies
When the temperatures drop, drivers need the right equipment to be successful in their jobs. Practical items to have on hand include winter gloves, boots, and jacket; ice scraper/brush; shovel; sand; large, heavy-duty flashlight; and heavy hammer for freeing frozen brakes. In case of an emergency, it may be wise to have extra clothing, survival rations, first-aid supplies, and a blanket in the vehicle.
Drivers must be aware of traction device requirements — such as tire chains or cables — for each state in which they operate their commercial motor vehicle.
Running out of Time
Most carriers and drivers have heard of the “adverse driving conditions” exception. For some, it may be confusing as to when it may be used.
Specific criteria must be met in order to take advantage of this provision. You must look at what is defined as adverse driving conditions. According to Section 395.2, this term includes “snow, sleet, fog, other adverse weather conditions, a highway covered with snow or ice, or unusual road and traffic conditions, none of which were apparent on the basis of information known to the person dispatching the run at the time it was begun.”
If the threat of bad weather and questionable road conditions were known before the driver started his or her route, you would be unable to use this exception. If the forecast did not hint at the potential hazard — and the conditions prevent the driver from completing the run within the hours-of-service (HOS) limits — the driver may add up to an additional two hours to complete the run or find a safe place to park the vehicle.
It is a good best practice to instruct a driver to always dialog with dispatch for permission to use this additional drive time. This may be accomplished through your company safety policy and driver training.
When a major storm hits a region, “emergencies” are often declared. These official decrees give some a misperception they are given a “pass” on safety regulations.
Unlike the adverse driving exception, an emergency — caused by the weather, an earthquake, or other natural or man-made event — threatens human life or public welfare. This may be an interruption in essential services (e.g., utilities, medical care) or supplies (e.g., food, fuel).
It takes a declaration by state or federal government officials, including Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Field Administrators, to be deemed an “emergency.” The declaration will spell out what regulations are being suspended temporarily and for what duration.
These breaks in compliance only apply to motor carriers and drivers engaged in emergency relief efforts. In other words, providing “direct assistance” such as immediate restoration of utilities and communications or providing food, water, or fuel. It does not include transportation related to long-term recovery efforts and routine commercial deliveries after the initial threat has passed.
About the Author
Kathy Close is a transportation editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, and driver qualification. For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.