Winter driving safety lessons learned

December 1, 2006 By    

It’s no secret that we who live with winter driving hazards use our experience to survive.

Jay Johnston LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
Jay Johnston LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

When I first received my license, I put our old Ford wagon in a few snow banks getting used to icy roads. Luckily for me no damage was done. Finally my Dad drove me to the outdoor ice rink after hours and let me loose until I learned to anticipate how tires react on ice.

They frown on that these days, but it worked.

It is the first few days of icy winter weather that makes driving tough. Other drivers in general are experiencing the same control problems and when they slip slide and stop, it messes up the flow of traffic.

Changing weather conditions also contribute to control issues, such as when the temperature drops at night and warms up during the day. Those early morning ice patches might not have been there on the way home yesterday afternoon.

The biggest issue with driving large trucks such as a bobtail and transport is maintaining control of those heavy vehicles. Stopping takes longer on ice, and when you drop a wheel onto the shoulder it takes greater skill to bring it back under control.

The safety features on these trucks are outstanding and usually do their job well in terms of product containment. It is when our vehicles hit other vehicles that serious damage can be done. A passenger car or even a pickup truck is no match for a propane delivery vehicle.

Staying focused is a huge priority. Distractions such as loud music, channel surfing, cell phone use, fast food, hot or cold beverages, cab clutter and map reading can be major risk factors. Trust me when I say you cannot afford to lose focus, especially during winter driving conditions.

Even dry roads present challenges. One year down in Texas, one of my clients had two separate incidents with passenger cars. In both cases the bodily injuries were serious and allegations of vehicular control became liability issues.

For example, our truck driver claimed a car was passing him on the shoulder and the claimant swore that our driver cut him off.

In the second case, a passenger vehicle pulled out onto the highway with no lights in front of our driver. Our truck rear-ended the vehicle and control once again became an issue of contention. Each case was settled for about $1 million.

I know it sounds wrong, but I share these stories to help create awareness.

Being frustrated with bad-faith situations does no good after the fact. It is today in the here and now that we can talk about driving safely in winter conditions.

At your next safety meeting or even during your next coffee break, discuss the challenges associated with winter driving. Remember, mutual encouragement goes a long way when it comes to safety.

Jay Johnston ( is president of Jay Johnston & Associates, specializing in insurance, safety and leadership strategies for propane marketers. He can be reached at 952-253-2710.

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