How Bad Weather Affects a Truck Driver
When the weather is less than ideal a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle may become impaired due to several reasons. Whether it be because their visibility is greatly reduced or because their car is not able to safely stop on slick and snow-covered roads, what is clear is that driving when there is bad weather increases the chance that you will be in an accident. This blog post will summarize findings on the road condition variables and truck accident causes that negatively affect driving issued by the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
Wind speed – Wind speed affects vehicle performance in that it can make it harder to control your vehicle in high winds, this is even more true for drivers who have a twenty-foot tall trailer. High winds further impact the driver’s visibility due to debris such as snow and dust blowing across the road.
Precipitation – Precipitation such as rain, snow, sleet, and even hail can all have a negative impact on how a driver operates on the road. Precipitation affects how the wheels and the road interact. When the road is wet there is less friction between the wheels and the road, therefore making it harder to bring the vehicle to a complete stop. In addition when it is raining or snowing traffic will be moving slower which increases accident risk.
Unique Considerations for Truck Drivers
If you have ever been on the road when the weather is poor then you know that it can be a challenge driving your vehicle. You may be at risk for spinning out, or not being able to stop your car in time to avoid another accident. However, there are special considerations that truck drivers need to consider when they are driving their vehicle in bad weather. Driving a tractor-trailer in adverse conditions takes a special set of skills and importantly experience. Some of the tops truck drivers should employ and special considerations they need to accommodate for include:
- Pay attention to the wind – The wind can affect how all drivers operate on the road. However, when you are hauling a trailer behind your vehicle, high winds can be disastrous. High winds can cause the trailer to sway uncontrollably, and very strong gusts can actually knock the trailer over.
- Pay attention to visibility – Driving in a large tractor-trailer already means that you have a different perspective on the road. Tractor-trailers have very large blind spots located on the left and right side of the vehicle as well as directly behind and in front of the truck. However, when the weather is poor and visibility is further reduced, you should make an extra effort to pay attention to other drivers on the road as well as avoid making abrupt lane changes.
- Braking – Braking when the road is slick can be a challenge, however, when you are hauling a trailer loaded with thousands of pounds of cargo, it is simply out of the question to bring your car to a stop quickly. Truck drivers are advised not to engage their Jake Brakes on icy roads because it is not designed to help in these conditions. In addition, drivers are encouraged not to overuse their foot brake unless their truck and trailer are in a perfectly straight line.
- Conduct thorough pre-inspections before your trip – Numerous truck accidents are caused by worn tires or improperly fitted trailer hitches. By conducting a thorough pre-trip inspection drivers can ensure that their vehicle is in the best possible conditions for the weather.
- Speed – Many people make a mistake in believing that the speed limit is what speed they are expected to travel. However, it is a limit, not a minimum. When the weather is poor, a driver needs to take the road conditions into consideration in light of their vehicle. You should slow your vehicle down to the speed you are reasonably able to control.
- Monitor the weather – If you have ever been caught in a bad winter storm you know that the weather can go from bearable to full white out conditions in a matter of minutes. When you are driving a truck, you should closely monitor the weather in light of your experience and training. If the weather becomes too treacherous to drive in you should consider pulling over at a safe location until the weather and roads have cleared. Drivers should be aware that Federal laws may grant a driver protections for refusing to drive in extreme weather conditions.
Driving a large truck takes a degree of training and experience, while you may be under pressure from your company to make a delivery deadline, you need to consider the value of potentially making a delivery on time, compared to the very real risk of an accident because of inclement weather.
Knowing your rights under the Surface Transportation Act
The Surface Transportation Act (known as the STAA) prohibits an employer from disciplining or firing a commercial truck driver because that driver refuses to drive their commercial vehicle in violation of Federal Safety Regulations.
The United States Code of Federal Regulations [49 C.F.R. §392.14] provides that when there are “hazardous road conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke” such that a driver’s visibility or traction is hindered, they shall reduce their speed. In addition, “[i]f conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.” 49 C.F.R. §392.14. This means that when the driver feels that they cannot safely operate their vehicle, they are entitled to discontinue driving until the conditions improve. However, if the driver is not in a place where they can safely stop their vehicle, they are entitled to drive to the nearest point where they are able to safely pull over.
While there is no clear test so to what conditions affect what driver, whether or not a driver can use this law to discontinue driving depends on whether or not they had “reasonable apprehension” of serious injury to himself or the public because of the vehicle’s unsafe conditions.
When a driver refuses to drive because of adverse weather, they are protected from being fired or disciplined for their refusal provides that their refusal was reasonably based. One case heard by the U.S Department of Labor in regards to this was the case of Robinson v. Duff Truck Line, Inc. (1993). In this case, a motor carrier fired one of their drivers because the driver did not even attempt to drive his vehicle. However, the driver claimed that the weather was bad and that he was not able to even begin his trip because of the weather. The carrier argued that the language in the regulations that says “the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued” when the weather is sufficiently hazardous meant that the driver must at least start a run before refusing to drive due to hazardous weather. The Secretary of Labor rejected the carrier’s argument that a driver must at least begin his run before he can refuse to drive due to bad weather, stating that it would create an absurd situation of drivers being compelled to take their vehicles at least out of the terminal gate.
Contact A Truck Accident Attorney Today
To schedule a private, no-cost evaluation, call our truck accident lawyers at the law offices of Reiff & Bily’s The Truck Accident Team at (800) 896-6173 or contact us online. If the statute of limitations expires, your window of legal opportunity will close and you won’t be able to pursue a claim. So contact us today to see how we can make our experience work for you. You only pay if there’s a financial recovery.