Top tips to improve winter truck driving

British winter for HGV drivers can be difficult with temperatures plummeting and rainfall increasing. Driving conditions can become particularly dangerous in the winter months, especially in extreme conditions such as ice and snow. With the changes in weather, comes an increase in breakdowns and road accidents due to dangerous driving and a lack of vehicle preparation. 

We understand it can be daunting for even the most experienced drivers around this time of year, especially for those embarking on long haul trips. Therefore, we have compiled some tips for winter truck driving, with the aim to make HGV driving in the winter months safer and less challenging.

Go slow

Ice, snow, fog, wind and heavy rainfall are all reasons to slow your vehicle down. We understand deadlines are tight, especially in the lead up to Christmas, however, most accidents are caused by excessive speed. So, we urge taking caution in bad weather. Slowing down when you have to will give you more time to react if anything does go wrong. Recent statistics reveal that on average, 22% of all UK road accidents are caused by bad weather, with 11% of those accidents caused by high speed. 

We recommend that all HGV drivers avoid overusing the foot break unless the unit is absolutely straight on the road, or else the trailer can spin out of position. Not only can the roads become dangerous and slippery, but we also need to take into account poor visibility and the unpredictability of other, less experienced drivers. To combat this, we offer front, side and rear-view cameras with in-cab monitors to completely eliminate HGV blind spots. Our CornerEye Camera System has a wide-angle lens to give a 270-degree view field of vision around the front and side of the truck. This gives the driver an increased vision in real-time around the truck from one image feed through to their in-cab HD monitor. CornerEye meets and exceeds the obligatory Class V & VI and was developed to improve the safety of the driver and other road users while reducing the number of accidents and the level of damage.

beware of icy roads when winter truck driving

Keep a safe distance

We have spoken about staying at a slower, safer speed on the road, but it is also imperative to keep a safe distance from vehicles around you, especially when driving in winter. While the stopping distance in wet conditions is twice the normal distance, on icy roads it is almost ten times that! At 70mph, a passenger vehicle would normally take around 315 feet to stop completely, however a larger HGV would take approximately 409 feet before being able to fully stop. Although we recommend keeping a safe distance from other vehicles for your own safety, be mindful of those around you. Refrain from doing anything sudden, such as braking or speeding. This will reduce traction on the road and put you and other drivers at risk of an accident.

Be prepared for winter truck driving

Driving can be unpredictable year-round, but HGV drivers should take extra caution in the winter months when the weather is more severe. The best way to tackle winter driving is to be prepared.

  • Fuel up! Keep your tank topped up for extra weight, which will help aid with traction. It is also wise to ensure you have at least half a tank of fuel before you set off on any trip; in case your vehicle breaks down and you need to use the fuel for heat. 
  • Check your defroster is working properly during icy conditions. 
  • Make sure your heater works before you set off. If you get stuck in a traffic jam or are on a long haul journey, you will want to stay warm. 
  • Ensure all your lights are clean, working and are visible. It is illegal for any of your lights to be out as this puts other drivers at risk of accident due to not having a clear sight of you. Be mindful that there is a fixed penalty notice of £50 for a broken light.  
  • Top up your washer fluid. The roads can get incredibly dirty over winter. Mud and snow can wash up on your screen, so make sure you have washer fluid to ensure full visibility. Washer fluid can also help defrost ice on your windscreen. 
  • Check all your windows and mirrors are completely clean before beginning any journey. 
  • Ensure your tyre pressure is of legal requirements. For more information on tyre management, you can review the Tyre Industry Federation’s Guide to Tyre Management on Heavy Vehicles. 
  • Check you have roadside assistance in case you break down during your journey. 
  • The engine oil and antifreeze should be at the legal levels. 
  • Ensure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow. If it is not clear, this could put you in danger of toxic carbon monoxide fumes. 
  • Vehicle batteries can last around 5 years. Your battery will be crucial if you break down but need heat. 
  • Plan ahead. Check weather and traffic warnings on your route so you can better plan your journey or make a detour. Telematics and Google Maps are excellent ways to help you plan your journey better.  
heavy rainfall is dangerous when winter truck driving

Pack a winter survival kit

With the chances of breakdowns and delays increased during winter, it is recommended to pack an emergency winter kit, just in case you end up stranded for a little while. 

  • Pack extra clothes, a warm blanket and a sleeping bag to keep warm if your battery cuts out.
  • Pack a flashlight for safety if you get stuck in conditions with poor lighting.
  • Pack a shovel, sand and salt. You may come across some roads that are blocked by thick snow or have not been gritted properly.
  • Pack jump cables for you or other trucks that won’t start.
  • Pack a high-vis jacket to ensure you’re visible to other drivers when you’re outside the truck.
  • Pack food and bottles of water in case you get stuck for a period of time without access to it.
  • Pack de-icer and a scraper in case your defroster breaks.

Get plenty of rest

Everyone can relate to feeling a little more tired in the winter months with darker mornings and evenings. The Independent reported a staggering 97% of us complain of feeling tired and sluggish in winter months, so it is essential for truck drivers to get enough rest and sleep when off shift to avoid potential accidents on the road. Although exceptions apply, the daily driving limit for truck drivers is 9 hours per day with a 45 minute break every 4.5 hours with 11 hours rest between shifts, so make the most of this and sleep as long as you can. For a more in-depth look into driver hours and the regulations surrounding digital tachographs, please see our article. 

As of 2006, it became a legal requirement for all new vehicles to have a digital tachograph installed in order to track driver activity. Our SE5000 Exakt Duo² digital tachograph and SE5000 Connekt smart tachograph track driver time to ensure lawful driving and that enough breaks are taken throughout the shift to avoid tiredness and overworking.  

Use good judgement

The most important advice we can give is to use good judgement. If the weather is too dangerous, you should find a place to get off the road safely. Pay attention to the tyre spray on the road as a guide to changing weather conditions. If there is a fair amount of spray, then it means the roads are still wet. However, if there is little spray after rain then it indicates the road has begun to freeze. If you are stranded or need to pull over, alert someone as soon as possible and consider your fuel supply as you will want to keep your engine running to keep warm.

roads that are bendy and snowy are dangerous - be cautious when winter truck driving

We understand driving in winter can be daunting and challenging, so it is essential you are always 100% in control of your HGV in order to keep you and others safe. 
If you are an experienced HGV driver and have any other useful tips for other drivers over the winter period, please share with us on Twitter by tagging us at @stoneridge_uk.