7 safety tips for truckers driving in high winds
Advice about the dangers of driving semi-trucks in high wind areas, and how to avoid a crash
Every truck driver who has a CDL knows the dangers of driving in bad weather. In Michigan, as in many states, truck drivers are required to reduce speed by up to one-third if weather is bad, and to stop driving altogether if it becomes too dangerous. That’s one reason why when I lecture at safety seminars to trucking companies. Or when I teach lawyers how to litigate truck accident cases, I often say that bad weather is never really an excuse for a truck accident.
We’re all familiar with examples of bad weather – snow, ice and rain all can affect a trucker’s ability to safely navigate his or her semi-truck. Although there’s another dangerous weather condition that’s often overlooked: Wind.
High winds make driving any kind of big bus or truck much more dangerous, and high winds require a much higher degree of care. Semi-trucks are especially prone to wind interference because big-rigs are so much bigger than other ordinary vehicles, and the surface of the trailer creates an enormous “sail area” which catches the wind. This can cause the trailer to move – and this has led to many otherwise preventable truck accidents caused by windy conditions.
A sail area is defined as any type of surface that will generate thrust by being placed in wind. The more square footage in the sail area, the more power developed by wind pressure. For example, the side of a trailer can be as long as 53 feet and 9 feet high, which equates to nearly 500 square feet of sail area. And the same wind conditions which may minimally impact a passenger car can have dramatic effects on a trailer with 500 square feet of sail area.
The rule for truckers: Be aware of high winds
Here’s a video of a truck driver actually saving his tractor-trailer from tipping over in high winds with his driving maneuvers (beware of the explicit language).
Truck drivers must be aware of windy conditions and how to drive in them safely – or to stop driving altogether if there’s sufficient risk that the wind may interfere with the truck keeping in its lane of travel. And it’s always helpful to watch for roadside signs which may provide warnings, such as “Wind Advisory: High Profile Vehicles.”
Truckers also know the problem of wind is made significantly worse when a semi-truck with a large sail area travels down the highway at a high rate of speed.
Pressure develops because of wind under the trailer, over the trailer, and around the trailer. The higher the rate of speed, the more effect the wind has on all these areas.
The best way to proceed in high wind situations is to simply slow down, or if appropriate, pull over and stop when it is safe to do so.
Remember, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a rule in place governing bad weather situations. In §392.14 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), when hazardous conditions exist “[e]xtreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised.”
Again, a truck driver can greatly reduce danger simply by slowing down.
But don’t forget, § 392.14 doesn’t stop there. It further reads that “[i]f the conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.”
Expert truckers suggest the following measures when you’re facing high wind situations:
- Know the sail area: This will vary from truck to truck.
- Secure all doors and exposed items: Take the time to do a thorough once-over on your truck before getting into the drivers’ seat. A few minutes beforehand can spare you from a disaster later.
- Pre-trip inspection: To add to this, remember that under the FMCSRs, truckers are also required to perform pre-trip inspections, and there are specific rules that govern your cargo load as well.
- Be aware of the weather report: Know what you’re up against before you hit the road. A truck driver never wants to be surprised by a sudden strong gust of wind out on the open road.
- Be mindful of signage: Windsocks, road signs and grass that has grown horizontally are all good indicators about the types of wind conditions you may encounter. Heed their warnings and drop your speed so that wind has less force.
- Empty trailers are more dangerous: An empty trailer isn’t as weighted as a loaded one and is far more susceptible to being manipulated by even a modest amount of wind. It’s more appropriate to stop operating the semi-truck, as an empty trailer plus high winds are certainly “sufficiently dangerous” conditions as contemplated within the rules.
- When in doubt, slow down or stop: It’s the golden rule of professional truck driving. Under any circumstance, including weather, road construction, restricted views or any possible hazard, always slow down to a safe speed, or stop when appropriate.