With apologies to Bob Dylan, the answer to trucking safety is not “blowin’ in the wind.”
Motor carriers and professional truck drivers know well the importance of preparing for winter weather. They know that natural disasters often accompany difficult weather and road conditions. They understand the importance of good resources for accurate information on weather updates and road closures.
But, somehow, many carriers and drivers don’t regard wind by itself as “air in a hurry.” Instead, they view it as something we all put up with rather than as a potential safety hazard.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration disagrees. Go to the FMCSA website, find the search box, and enter “wind.” You will find page after page of FMCSA emergency declarations with “high winds” listed as a danger. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) make it clear in section 392.14 that hazardous conditions, such as high winds, require extreme caution. In these situations, the operation of a commercial motor vehicle should be discontinued and not resumed until conditions improve.
Semitrailers offer a broad canvas for wind to buffet, nearly 500 square feet of “sail” area. Flip a trailer in high winds or have a strong gust push a truck into another lane, and trial attorneys will ask a jury why this motor carrier allowed operations in violation of section 392.14. Why wasn’t the truck dispatched to a safer route, one that did not have windblown grass and bent signs at roadside? Didn’t the truck driver listen to the radio weather forecast for high winds that day? How could anyone miss the flashing “High Winds” warning sign at the last weigh station?
Weather updates, warning signs and operational experience along a route provide fleets and drivers with advance cues to take extra care. Tornado season and hurricane season are particular times to watch for high winds.
Wind can spring up out of the blue. When your drivers are out on the road, these tips can keep them safe while trucking in the wind:
- Prepare your truck. During your pre-trip, double-check doors and cargo to make sure everything is closed, locked and tied down securely. Check again at your en-route vehicle inspection and at post-trip.
- Know your load. Light or empty trailers are more easily rocked by wind.
- Reduce your speed. High speeds and high winds don’t mix. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel and a reasonable pace down the road.
- Hang to the right. Use the right-hand lane and let others pass. Keep to the right side of that lane; a passing trailer may be pushed your direction by the wind. Leave space to avoid an accident.
- Watch for indicators of wind activity. Wind may be transparent, but its impact can often be seen. Trees limbs bending, signs wavering, dust and debris scattering are all forewarnings of wind activity. Watch the behavior of other vehicles, particularly high-profile units like tractor-semitrailers and buses.
- Be ready for a strong gust. When passing or being passed by another high-profile vehicle, the wind may be temporarily blocked, only to return with a vengeance. The same can occur when buildings or trucks parked at roadside screen the wind. A curve in the road may suddenly bring wind from a different direction. Hold tight for a gust.
- Be prepared to shut down. Those parked trucks at roadside may tell of conditions ahead. When wind gets too strong, pull over in a safe location, contact your motor carrier, and wait until conditions allow a safe return to driving.
- Download the PrePass app. It provides ALERTS for high wind area warnings right on your mobile device or telematics system. The PrePass app can also keep you safe by warning of work zones, steep grades, brake check areas, chain up areas, runaway truck ramps and no commercial vehicle roads.
To paraphrase Dylan, “the answer my friend” is safety, not “blowin’ in the wind.”