Driving in Adverse Conditions: A Comprehensive Guide

Adverse driving conditions pose a challenge for any driver, and the heavier the vehicle, the greater the risk. Truckers in particular need to know how to drive in adverse conditions. Accidents are far more likely to be fatal when driving an 18-wheeler than operating a small car.

In the case of adverse road conditions, professional drivers need to consider the official rules on what counts as DOT adverse driving conditions and how these rules impact the hours drivers may operate their vehicles.

Let’s walk through the subject of driving in adverse conditions and how you should tackle these potentially hazardous situations.

What are Adverse Driving Conditions?

Answering “what is adverse conditions?” can be fairly straightforward. Ask someone what type of environment they would consider to be dangerous for driving, and they would rightly point out examples like:

  • Heavy wind
  • Heavy rain
  • Heavy snow

Any form of wild weather would qualify, in most people’s eyes. Then there are the road conditions to take into account. Icy roads or fallen leaves that have yet to be cleared create environments where accidents can happen.

However, the definition of adverse weather conditions FMSCA is strict and not at the driver’s discretion. Fleet managers and drivers must consider their criteria when deciding whether to apply for an adverse driving conditions exemption.

How the FMCSA Defines Adverse Driving Conditions

Various categories define adverse driving conditions FMCSA. First, problematic weather conditions include fog, snow, and sleet. This category also covers snow and ice on the road, as well as adverse road and traffic conditions.

The key aspect of the FMCSA’s definition is that the fleet dispatcher could not have known about these conditions ahead of time. So, heavy rush-hour congestion during the holiday season would not count as adverse road conditions because the dispatcher would have reasonably known about this before the run started.

Naturally, there are potential gray areas within this definition. What if heavy winds were expected at a certain hour but, instead, appeared 12 hours later than predicted? These situations must be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Rules for Adverse Driving Conditions Exemption

U.S. truckers are restricted in how many hours they may work in a single shift. In recent years, enforcement has grown stricter, with heavy fines handed out for companies that breach these limitations.

An adverse driving conditions exemption is available to help organizations manage unexpected adverse conditions. The general rule is that drivers are permitted to drive and work for two extra hours to complete their runs.

Here’s what you need to know about these rules:

  • Employees may drive for a maximum of 13 hours and work for a maximum of 16 hours.
  • To qualify for the exemption, adverse road conditions must not have been known ahead of starting the run.
  • Drivers and fleet dispatchers must know how to log adverse driving conditions and include as much detail as possible.
  • Although drivers can continue to work for up to 16 hours, cycle limits and required rest breaks still apply.

Tips for Driving in Adverse Road Conditions

Exemptions are one thing, but safety is another. Skilled drivers need to be trained in how to tackle dangerous driving conditions. It’s important for their safety and for the profitability of your business.

Anyone managing a fleet needs to keep things running as best they can. So, what’s the best way to handle driving in adverse conditions?

Heavy Rain

The biggest threats of heavy rain are reduced visibility and the risk of skidding across the road due to hydroplaning.

Follow these tips for dealing with heavy rain:

  • Turn on windshield wipers and headlights to improve visibility, even during daylight conditions.
  • Slow down.
  • Keep a bigger space between you and any vehicles in front.

Always be mindful of the vehicles around you. Inexperienced drivers are highly likely to crash, and you don’t want to find yourself in a pileup.

Heavy Wind

Trucks are especially vulnerable to high winds. Both cab and trailer height increases the risk of being knocked onto your side.

What can you do to handle the dangers of heavy winds?

  • Keep a tight grip on the steering wheel to prepare for sudden gusts.
  • Be mindful of surrounding trees and debris.
  • Maintain an eye on the vehicles around you, especially on multi-lane highways.
Snow and Ice

Regular drivers often dread the winter months due to the high likelihood of needing to navigate snow and icy road conditions.

Here’s what you can do to mitigate the risk of an accident:

  • Accelerate/decelerate to avoid wheel slippage.
  • Keep snow chains and a shovel in your cab.
  • Maintain low-beam headlights to cut through the snow.
  • Try to avoid stopping when going uphill.

Get More Winter Driving Training

Driving in adverse conditions is a reality for professional truckers. If you want to make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest winter driving strategies, check out our library of free courses in Tenstreet’s Driver Pulse App and test your knowledge on all kinds of safety topics!

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