Alphonso LewisHello! I’m Alphonso Lewis, a YRC Freight professional driver based out of Montgomery, Ala.  I have had the honor of being an America’s Road Team captain for the American Trucking Associations (ATA). Road team captains share safe-driving tips and offer motorists advice on how to safely share the road with commercial vehicles.

During my years as a professional driver, I’ve driven through all types of bad weather and learned a lot about staying safe. I’d like to share some of my tips to help you stay safe. You may have heard many of these tips before, but when it comes to safety, a few reminders can’t hurt.

1. Be Prepared.

You must be ready for whatever you may encounter. Yes, this is common sense. But how many of us jump in our vehicle when the weather looks nice and end up in a storm? I suggest:

  • Proper clothing (loose layers of clothing, extra gloves, rain gear)
  • A flashlight in the glove box
  • A blanket, food and water
  • A bag of sand or salt and extra windshield washer fluid
  • A windshield scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire chains or traction mats
  • Maintain at least a half tank of gas at all times during the winter
  • Plan long trips carefully—what weather conditions may you encounter?

2. Complete a Pre-Trip Inspection.

Professional drivers are required to inspect their vehicles before every trip. We do a visual, hands-on inspection and check all important items, including tires, wiper blades and fluid and lights. Check your vehicle often. Be sure to have a mechanic check it at the beginning of winter. I can’t count how many times I have stopped to help someone on the side of the road with a flat and have found their spare tire also flat. Check your spare regularly.

3. Slow down.

Many accidents occur because drivers are going too fast for road conditions. A slower speed gives you more time to react if something occurs. Extra patience and care for other drivers can help a lot.

4. Give yourself extra space.

Allow for more room between yourself and other vehicles. You should always have enough space and time to move out of harm’s way.

5. Hold your steering wheel firmly.

Sudden, sharp moves can quickly cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Keep your vehicle steady through ruts in the road, heavy wind and on ice.

6. Brake and accelerate lightly.

Try not to do anything forcefully in bad weather. When you need to slow down quickly in slippery conditions, try lightly pumping your brakes. This reduces your chance of locking your tires and spinning out of control.

If your vehicle has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), press and hold the brake down as far as possible in an emergency. The ABS prevents the wheels from locking, enabling you to steer around obstacles.

7. Watch for black ice.

Black ice is a dangerous road condition. It is a thin layer of transparent ice that forms when the temperature is close to freezing and sometimes makes the road look slightly wet. It is difficult to spot, so when the temperature gets close to freezing, I look for clues:

  • Ice build-up on mirror arms, antenna or the top corners of the windshield
  • The spray from tires on vehicles in front stops

8. Be cautious when approaching bridges.

Elevated structures, such as bridges and highway overpasses, usually freeze first, and many are not treated with ice-/snow-melt materials (salt, sand) like the rest of the road. I’ve seen many vehicles traveling fine on the highway, but as soon as they get on a bridge, they spin out of control. Bridges often have black ice.

9. Use extra care in mountain driving.

Mountain weather can be severe in winter and can change rapidly. Be ready for wind gusts and watch and/or listen for emergency vehicles and snowplows. If at all possible, do not stop in avalanche zones. Obey posted rules. Tire chains may be required for certain routes.

10. Obey all road signs.

A simple, yet effective tip. Safety authorities post this information for a reason. I’ve seen many drivers get into trouble just by ignoring a sign.

11. If stranded or stuck, stay in your vehicle.

If you get stuck in a bad storm or blizzard and you can’t see a close place to seek assistance, stay put! It’s easy to get confused in a bad storm, and you may get lost.

This is a time to use those supplies mentioned in Tip 1. You should also keep moving to stay warm. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Run your engine for only 10 minutes each hour.

12. If conditions look bad, get off the road.

Don’t push your luck. Use your best judgment. Listen to weather reports and warnings and react appropriately. This tip can help you avoid having to use Tip 11.

The last, but certainly not the least important tip: Never Leave Without Your “Keys.” All YRC Freight drivers are trained to use the Smith System® safety education program that uses the “Five Keys to Space-Cushion Driving.”

The five keys are:

  • Aim High in Steering: Make sure you’re looking far enough ahead of your vehicle, so you have time to react to any hazardous situation.
  • Get the Big Picture: Look all around your vehicle.
  • Keep Your Eyes Moving: Continuously scan the entire area.
  • Leave Yourself an Out: Always have an escape plan for you and your vehicle.
  • Make Sure They See You: Make other drivers aware of your presence.

I can personally attest to the importance of using the Smith System while driving. I use the five keys all day, every day.

Thanks for reading my tips and remember to always drive safely!