Big Rig, Big Responsibilities: Semi truck drivers take on 18 wheels in snow, slush & ice
KALAMAZOO, Mich. —
The snow, slush and slop can be tricky for drivers on four wheels to navigate.
Brian Hanford is a professional driver and Commericial Drivers License (CDL) instructor and believes the challenge is even greater when you are controlling 18 wheels.
“A lot of people think this truck has 18 wheels that has 18 brakes,” Hanford said. “It does not.”
When Hanford is behind the wheel, his head is on a swivel. He is constantly looking at his mirrors and his hands are locked at 10 and two.
“One minute it can snow… the next minute there’s no snow. So, you really have to look ahead,” Hanford said. “Look for the brake lights.”
Michigan State Police have seen the crashes, pile-ups and their devastating results.
“Quite simply it’s just driving too fast for those conditions,” said First Lieutenant Dale Hinz with Michigan State Police. “While the speed limit might be posted at 65 miles an hour, it doesn’t mean that those trucks can drive 65 miles an hour in those conditions.”
Ft. Lt. Hinz also explained, “It seems like groups of vehicles have the tendency to form out there on I-94 and when one of those vehicles has to touch their brakes, for whatever reason, the others are too close and they cause these pileups.”
Instructors with the Michigan Center for Truck Safety said drivers are trained to leave plenty of space between vehicles. They said they are also trained to slow down when weather conditions change.
Jon Crippen is one of the safety specialists who puts professional drivers and regular drivers behind the wheel of a mobile simulator.
He explained, “If it’s slippery, you’re going to slow way down. The speed limit is 65. I am going to probably be driving 35-ish.”
The simulator is an extra training tool that shows drivers the importance of speed and space, how to navigate a whiteout and other obstacles on the road. It is not a training requirement.
Carl Vogler, Safety Specialist for the Michigan Center for Truck Safety, said, “Other people’s families are driving around me. I know my family is on the road, too. I hope if there is one thing we can teach people it’s how to driver safer.”
Before hitting the road, Hanford inspects his truck. “I look for ice on the back of the mirror,” he said. “That’s telling me that if there’s ice on the back of the mirror, there’s ice on that road.”
Hanford knows that real lives are in danger on the roads. He said it is something he takes seriously. He said he hopes all other drivers do, too.
“Big trucks… they don’t just hurt people, they kill people. Start respecting us a little more,” he said. “We need that.”
Hanford and the instructors with the Michigan Center for Truck Safety said they feel that better training and education would lead to safer drivers and less crashes.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is working to make that happen. The entry-level driver training rule (ELDT) rule became law in March 2017.
The ELDT rule will set minimums for the level of training required for those looking to get and upgrade a commercial driver’s license. Those changes have to be in place across the country by February 2020.