Snow, Ice, and Panic. Driver and Dispatcher Abandonment.

Winter fell hard and fast in the fourth quarter of 2019. During that time, I spend countless hours ensuring my fleet was ready for the impact snow and ice can present. The ice storms that overtook the northern half of both coasts and the Midwest thwarted our preparation attempts. Current forecasts predict the wintry conditions will be present this weekend, calling for 5-6 inches of snow throughout the northwestern mountainous areas.

Each of my drivers who would encounter snow or ice had access chains or cables.  They kept a supply of windshield washer fluid for maximum visibility. I assigned them training specifically designed for truckers in winter weather conditions.  We spoke frequently about searching for easy exit parking which did not require backing on departure. They were to pay extra attention to their truck and trailer lights to ensure they were clean and operational. During trip planning, we worked together to ensure plenty of time on the back end of the haul to give them a buffer in case of bad weather.

We had all the bases covered. I made sure they had all the tools needed for safe performance. One issue I did not anticipate was the mental toll that driving in these conditions could pose for some drivers.

Driving in wintry weather can pose a high-stress environment for truck drivers of any experience level, especially when they are not accustomed to snow and ice. Adding to the potential for vehicle instability, the sight of other trucks and cars that skidded to a halt on the median puts additional stress on the driver.

Jack’s Breakdown

He was between hubs, miles from the last and the next truck stop. It was one of those empty stretches of lonely highway where you could not even stop for coffee. The snow was bearing down on the Ohio highway on which he was traveling. I asked if he felt safe to continue operating in these conditions. His choice was to keep rolling. Jack was equipped with tire chains and enough experience to make it through the snow. He was advised to pull over if there were any concerns about safe operation whatsoever, and he continued his journey.

Then began the series of unlucky events, each could have been devastating had we not taken drastic measures. He pulled off at a rest area to equip his snow chains. When he reentered the truck, it wouldn’t start due to a malfunctioning battery. He called dispatch to report the issue.

The snow was bearing down on the Ohio highway on which he was traveling. A mere 20 minutes after he pulled over, his tire tracks were no longer visible.

Considering all factors, I decided our best course of action was to have Jack’s truck towed to the nearest truck stop.  Because of the snow, every towing company within a 100 miles radius was at capacity. The company with the shortest wait time estimated a 5-hour window to pick up the truck, and Jack. I gave them his truck information and coordinates.

It took a couple of hours to coordinate the tow. I had to plan the details of the pickup, drop off, and repair, I rescheduled the live unload scheduled for that evening. The quote from the tow company was sent to management for approval. While I was preoccupied with the logistics, Jack was sitting, alone in his truck, on the side of the highway, in the snow.

Jack’s Other Breakdown

When I called him to discuss the plan, he had been alone with his thoughts for hours. Understandably, he had worked himself up and could not remain calm. Maybe it was boredom, maybe it was uncertainty, maybe being stranded with no immediate solution made him feel claustrophobic. Whatever the reason, he began to panic.

“I have to get out of this truck, Lindsay, I can’t sit here anymore,” he pleaded. “I don’t have food, I’m freezing, my phone is about to die. I’m going to find a truck stop or grocery store or something. I just have to go.”

I begged him not to set out on foot. After searching his location, he was at least 2.5 miles from the nearest fuel stop. He knew two and a half miles in a snowstorm was a bad idea, but he was not thinking clearly. He was cold and hungry and wanted to escape the situation he was trapped in. I asked him to wrap up in every piece of clothing he had to stay warm and I would send a taxi to his tractor. Before he could answer, his phone battery died, and the line fell silent. I called back, nothing. I sent several messages to the truck. No answer. I was afraid that in his fragile state of mine he had taken off on foot, against both of our better judgment.

Don’t Skip this Step

These are the realities of life on the road for truck drivers. As safety professionals, we can do everything in our power to control a situation and prepare for what lies ahead. Sometimes, such as with Jack’s situation, it is easy to skip a step. In all the hustle to secure the load, reschedule the delivery, and plan for a tow, I forgot to keep the communication lines open with my driver. His lack of information led to anxiety within himself that could have had a terrible outcome.

  • – Always check the weather where you are and where you’re going.
  • – Stay to the right whenever possible, keep extra distance between cars.
  • – Stay away from car packs and avoid parking on the shoulder.
  • – Connect others on the CB radio and encourage communication.
  • – Keep emergency supplies on hand like:
    • – Snacks and Water
    • – Tool kit and Flashlight
    • – Waterproof boots
    • – Extra socks and sweats
    • – Blankets
    • – Back-up battery bank for phones

Start Today

Infinit-I Offers the following courses to help prepare your drivers for the quickly upcoming wintry weather conditions they will face.

  • – Winter readiness checklist
  • – Driving in Extreme Weather Conditions
  • – Real-Life Lessons: Winter Weather and a Bad Case of Ice
  • – Real-Life Lessons: Icy Cab Step Leads to a Broken Arm

Above all, you must prepare to counter uncertainties within your target audience. If your goal is to ensure the safety of your fleet, focus on frequent and consistent safety training. Now, you can do it for free. Infinit-I Workforce Solutions is offering a Complimentary 30-Day Trial to help you prepare your entire fleet.