Over the past week or so I have noticed several larger companies sending their trainee’s out on the road to the Northwest in an apparent attempt to train their new drivers techniques of winter driving. Every year, when the clocks are turned back and the winter weather sets in, the trainee’s arrive in droves to test their skills driving on snow covered, mountain roads. I see the same scenario almost like clockwork. The first snow usually results in many accidents and spin-outs on our mountain passes. You add the casual traveler who apparently thinks he’s the king of the road and disaster looms.
Have you ever tried to pass a four wheeler and about the time you get bumper to bumper with the other driver, they seem to feel the need to gun the gas and refuse to allow you to pass? This has happened to me on numerous occasions. The most recent example of this scenario happened last Friday night. I was traveling west bound on I-90 near mile post 30 in western Montana. I came upon a four wheeler who was trying to negotiate the curves and decided he didn’t want me to pass. To make a long story short, my several thousand miles of experience on this section of mountain road won out and I successfully passed this car without much fanfare. I wonder what the other driver was thinking, did he think that he had more experience on this stretch of road or did he dislike the fact that I was a “truck” and how dare I pass him. Judging by his Washington License Plates, I would guess that he is a supporter of the 60 MPH truck speed limit in the state of Washington.
Back to the Trainee subject……. I wonder why large companies feel the need to send their rookie drivers to mountainous areas to learn how to drive. I think it would be a better idea to wait until that new driver had at least a year of CDL experience under their belts before allowing them to drive our mountain roads and freeways. I could almost guess the time and date of the next major truck accident along I-90 in Montana or Idaho. It usually occurs just after dark on either Fourth of July Pass or Lookout Pass during our first snow storm of the season. An over ambitious driver decides to take on the elements and attempt a dangerous maneuver. I think the two biggest reasons for accidents with big trucks is speed in the curves or inconsistent speed in negotiating the mountain pass. If you pull a light load or set of doubles, keep the speed consistent, keep the RPM’s low and crawl up the hill. Once you stop or slow down, you increase your chances of spinning out, sliding into a ditch or jacking your rear pup. Be very careful braking on snow covered or ice covered roads. It is FAR better to “glide” through a problem area than to panic and punch the brakes, especially pulling doubles or triples.
The chain law is upon us again. Starting November 1st, the states of Washington, Oregon and California require all commercial vehicles over 10,000 lbs. GVW, to carry chains. You must be able to double chain one set of drives, single the other set of drives and single at least one tire on both sides of the trailer. A good rule of thumb is to carry at least 6 sets of chains for the typical 18 wheeler semi truck and trailer. Those three states will also post a sign when chains are required. California often has “chain checkpoints” to make sure you are properly chained before reaching the summit of the given pass or hill where chains are required. If you aren’t properly chained, you could be cited and most definitely turned around. Montana and Idaho post signs along certain highways that advise chains may be required. Usually their rule of thumb is that if you are involved in an accident or cause a traffic hazard because you were not chained, you will be cited regardless of whether a “Chain Advisory” was issued or not. This is particularly important when traveling over Lookout Pass on the Idaho / Montana state line. You not only will be cited, but you could be charged for towing and a service to install chains on your rig. It is always better to 1) Wait out the storm, 2) Chain your rig, or 3) Wait until the first accidents are cleared up and DOT has adequate time to sand and chemically treat the road with de-icer.
I don’t claim to be an expert by any means when it comes to winter driving. I have worked and lived in the Northwest and have experienced many winters since 1999. I can only pass along advice and personal experiences I have seen in the years I have been driving the local mountain highways. Slow your speed down, give yourself an extra day and experience the winters of the Northwest in a positive and unhurried manner. Your company will thank you for being safe, the local DOT will thank you and your family will thank you for coming home in one piece.
Be safe and God Bless!