Safe Driving with Trucks in Strong Winds
Not many South Africans are aware that their country has the 10th largest road network in the world. Our large road transport network means that during the daily course of their duties, our truck drivers often encounter adverse weather when out on these roads. Defensive driving is required by truck drivers and other road users when having to deal with driving in snow or mist, smoke from veld fires and in a strong wind.
During 2017, the Western Cape experienced very strong winds and many were captivated by the videos on social media of road users helplessly battling this force of nature. Is there anything a truck driver can do when encountering high winds?
We approached Barloworld Transport with a Q&A to gain some insights:
Is driving in adverse weather and in heavy winds something that can be addressed with drivers during continuous driving?
Safety of our drivers and general road users is of utmost importance to us. To this end, all our drivers are required to complete an Annual Driver Refresher Programme to ensure their advanced driving techniques remain up to standard, and that their skills are continuously honed. We also cover this specific topic in Training Manuals as part of our accredited learner program to produce professional drivers. Getting behind the wheel of a large truck is a huge responsibility, and we take every effort to ensure that our drivers are equipped to deal with every eventuality they may face on the roads.
What is the best advice for truck drivers to follow when encountering heavy winds? What are the Do’s and Don’ts?
Slow down immediately and keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times to maintain maximum control of the rig. Identify the closest safe place to park.
In low visibility, be extra attentive to your surroundings. In particular, pay attention to other vehicles sharing the road as well as the width, curve of the road and be alert to possible debris.
Apply defensive driving skills to ascertain whether the wind has any effect on other moving vehicles, or on your own vehicle.
Increase your following distance to other vehicles
Within our business, high-winds poses the greatest risk to our tautliner fleet (truck with trailer and curtains). This is especially true when the vehicle is empty, as no load means no weight to support the trailer. The large side panel (curtains) of the trailer, in effect, becomes large solid surfaces against which the wind blows. In these instances, our drivers are required to open and fasten the panel curtains (of the tautliners) as this reduces the impact and drag of the wind on the vehicle.
Ideally, a driver should contact their fleet control room, and inform them of the weather conditions. This information allows the control room to proactively notify other members of the fleet, as well as customers whose freight may be delayed. Our fleets operate with a “Safe Stop Procedure”, which details how and where to stop a vehicle to ensure driver and vehicle safety. If exceptionally high-wind persists, it becomes necessary to stop under bridges or behind hills to stay clear of the wind, until the inclement weather subsides.
Such stopping does increase risk, however, as whenever a truck is stationary on the side of the road, there is an increased chance of rear-end impacts with other traffic, as well as the risk of theft or hijackings. The key is for the drivers to assess the situation, and make the safest decision, for himself, the vehicle and other motorists, at that moment.
Do fleet managers keep a close eye on weather reports for adverse weather conditions? Which measures can they take to protect drivers, vehicles, and loads?
Our teams monitor both weather forecasts, and updates sent to us by our drivers out on the road. We utilise mobile communication to ensure that relevant people receive up-to-the-minute updates. It is tricky to keep a handle on every situation when ones’ fleet is covering the entire national road network – however, thanks to mobile communication and regularly monitoring, we can maintain a fairly accurate picture of local weather conditions.
In the Worcester truck rollover incident, the severe weather had been noted but this vehicle had safely travelled 90 km’s over a period of 1.5 hours safely and there were no undue concerns over wind speed. A confluence of events meant that our vehicle passed over that stretch of road at the exact moment that the storm was moving over it towards Worcester, and unfortunately our driver was caught in the middle. During the vehicle recovery, the wind became so strong that the curtaining and top of the tautliner were completely stripped away. As the wind continued to pick up and 5 other vehicles were blown over within a 15km radius of our vehicle.
This incident highlighted how difficult it is to manage high wind and storm areas when they cover a large area. In places where there are warning signs e.g. Passes (van Reenens etc.), it is far easier to control the situation and forewarn our drivers.
Would any vehicles be loaded differently where there is a warning of adverse weather?
No – Vehicles are always loaded in accordance with their load-bearing capacity and other specifications. This, together with the fact that we are in the business of delivering on our customer promises means that we load our vehicles as per requirements every day, regardless of weather.
On the N3 the toll concessionaire sometimes has fully laden trucks accompanying empty trucks down Van Reenen - do you have an understanding with toll concessionaires on assistance required on toll roads?
We follow the wind conditions closely and remain in constant communication with the authorities. In reported incidents of extreme winds in Van Reenen’s Pass, we prefer to not expose our fleet to unnecessary risk. As such we instruct our vehicles to park safely at the bottom of Van Reenen’s Pass until conditions improve.
Which sections of road in SA are most difficult for truck drivers to drive in bad weather? Where do we most expect to find strong winds and snow?
Our mountainous areas, such as Van Reenen’s Pass on the border of KZN and the Free State, can often experience very fierce winds as well as snow in winter. Long stretches of open road such as on the N1 e.g. Three Sisters -Richmond and the stretch near Worcester are also well known for high winds.
Through years of road monitoring and experience the National Roads Agency is likely to have erected warning signs at these locations to warn road users of the possibility of encountering strong wind.
Would you cancel and postpone the delivery of loads because strong winds or would that only be done in event of road closures?
Yes, we do! The safety of our drivers, our vehicles, and other road users are always our No1 priority! During the week of the much reported #Capestorm, we stopped all our vehicles in Cape Town until the worst of the weather had abated.
How important is the role of the fleet manager in coordinating travel in these conditions - i.e., the high winds and fire near Van Stadens Pass in the Eastern Cape last week?
Fleet managers have a very important role in facilitating and managing the safe transport of cargo/ loads. The fleet manager is the nucleus of all information reported by various service providers about road conditions on a specific road and can access the latest tracking data thanks to our technology-driven vehicle monitoring. This information allows them to rapidly, and accurately communicate with the drivers in the event of imminent danger.
Wind in Cape Town and Safety with Trucks
What advice can we offer to motorists when sharing roads with trucks in strong winds?
It is important for motorists to drive defensively, to remain alert and consider the possible “worst case scenario” and then adjust their driving!
The Arrive Alive road safety website has some excellent safety suggestions for motorists when driving in strong winds. We would like to emphasize some of what is suggested when sharing the roads with trucks in these conditions:
- Extra patience is required!
- Keep extra distance between you and the vehicle ahead - consider increasing the two-three second rule to 5 or 6 seconds.
- This is especially important when following trucks, buses, or all vehicles towing trailers and caravans.
- If you see a truck driving ahead that is losing its load, give it a wide berth.
- Be extra defensive near trucks and give them some extra space.
- Only overtake if you need to and you are convinced that you can do so safely.