According to FHWA, 467 fatalities are associated with icy driving conditions annually, with 23% of all vehicle crashes every year – some 1.3 million – caused in part by inclement weather such as rain, sleet, snow, fog, and wind. (Photo courtesy of VDOT)
As Winter Storm Jonas spreads across the Northeastern U.S. – a storm expected to generate blizzard conditions in 15 states and dump anywhere from one to three feet of snow – a variety of tips are being offered up to trucking companies and their drivers to help cope with what are expected to be hazardous operating conditions.
First and foremost, keep trucks off the roads if possible, explained Charlie Kilpatrick, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). That not only allows them to completely avoid slick road conditions and icy patches, particularly on bridges and overpasses, but makes it safer for snow-removal crews to do their work.
“Our crews are in 24-hour operations with a significant force of crew members, equipment and materials … as we treat roads with anti-icing materials,” he said in a statement. “With a storm of this magnitude, driving conditions will be extremely hazardous.”
Kilpatrick said VDOT is preparing for total accumulations of one to three feet of snow across the Commonwealth, accompanied by sleet and freezing rain in some areas, with two to three inches of snow per hour expected during the worst of the storm this evening through Saturday morning.
VDOT said it has approximately 2,500 crew members and more than 13,000 pieces of equipment, including plows, trucks and spreaders, for snow-removal operations statewide with over 650,000 tons of salt, sand and abrasives plus nearly two million gallons of liquid salt on hand to combat Winter Storm Jonas.
Kilpatrick noted that when storms like this hit, VDOTs crews – like those at other state DOTs – work to clear interstates and primary roads first, then major secondary roads with vital emergency and public facilities, followed other secondary roads and subdivision streets. “Crews focus their efforts on those roads that carry the most traffic,” he explained.
If commercial trucks do need to hit the road, Ryder System offers up a number of “winter preparedness” tips for fleets and drivers based on its experiences – especially in terms of using defensive driving techniques.
Even mobile phone applications in some cases are being tweaked to provide information aimed at helping commercial truck drivers surmount adverse conditions.
For example, Phil Baker, manager of mobile and payments at WEX Inc., explained to Fleet Owner that the company’s WEX Connect app updates fuel transaction data in real-time – allowing drivers to know at a glance if particular fuel stops are conducting business.
“You can tell right away when the last fuel transaction occurred,” Baker said. “If it occurred two minutes ago, it’s a fair bet that fuel stop is open. But if the last transaction occurred 72 hours ago, that might indicate it’s closed.”
While he stressed that the WEX Connect fuel sale transaction data does not directly indicate whether a particular location is open or closed, the information provides drivers with a fast “decision-making” reference point in bad weather.
“Winter Storm Jonas requires extra preparedness, and we want to remind East Coast drivers with a smartphone that they can download the free app to have access to information on fuel and service stations that are in operation at their fingertips,” added Peggy Watson, VP of North America fleet product for WEX.
“Several years ago, we developed this app to benefit our fleet customers’ bottom line by allowing their drivers to search for and quickly locate their preferred fuel and service stations, which saves time and money,” she noted. “Since then, we’ve seen WEX Connect become a critical resource for all drivers during natural disasters and for everyday use.”