RICHMOND, B.C. — Many drivers may not think transitioning into spring driving is a big deal. After all, winter is when road conditions are at their worst, right?
But in many areas, particularly in B.C., spring weather can be temperamental, with ideal road conditions one moment and a whiteout the next.
Trina Pollard, manager of industry and labor services, transportation and occupational road safety for WorkSafeBC, said commercial drivers must be prepared to shift into winter again this spring.
“For a lot of drivers, winter is over by the end of March,” said Pollard. “In fact, winter road conditions can be found in plenty of places in B.C. after that. Many highways in our province, including mountain passes and rural routes in high snowfall areas, remain subject to the requirement for winter tires or chains until the end of April.”
Pollard said regardless of the season, falling is the leading cause of truck driver injuries.
Statistics from WorkSafeBC reveal that 37% of fall injuries occur when drivers enter or exit the cab.
Spring is also the time when road construction activity increases, and Pollard said drivers must remember to slow down in work zones.
“Driver safety and the safety of workers in work zones near or alongside the road depends on drivers keeping control of their vehicles,” she said.
According to Pollard, commercial drivers near a vehicle with flashing amber, red, or blue lights must slow down to 70 km/hr if the posted speed limit is greater than 80 km/hr. They must also slow to 40 km/hr if the posted limit is less than 80 km/hr.
“In both situations, drivers should be prepared to move over and increase the space between their vehicle and the work zone,” she said, “if it’s safe to do so.”
For Jimmy Sandhu, occupational health and safety and safety advisory services for SafetyDriven, winter tires, sunlight hours, flash flooding, and driving behavior are areas commercial operators must focus on when transitioning into spring.
Winter tires are often taken off too early, according to Sandhu. And flash flooding becomes a greater risk in spring.
“As warmer weather approaches, there is a possibility of too much heat melting some recently fallen snow,” said Sandhu. “This could of course lead to flash flooding, which requires dispatch to keep an eye on weather reports and ensure staff is adequately prepared.”
As for driver behavior, Sandhu said added sunlight hours means additional motorists.
“With more drivers on the roadways, and some speeding more so than others, it’s important for truck drivers to be aware,” he said. “As a former truck driver, it’s important to be patient with other road users.”
With the onset of spring, there are several areas commercial vehicle enforcement officers look at when inspecting commercial vehicles.
Devon Van Dellen, transport officer and Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance instructor for the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch in Alberta, said drivers should look for cracking on stress points of the vehicle due to ice melting off the frame.
“Cold winters in the north take a toll on equipment and metal,” said Van Dellen. “Frame cracks are important to catch early, as failing to do so could have catastrophic results.”
Drivers should inspect any components that were covered by snow or ice, such as suspensions and axles, even rims, which can get overlooked during winter months.
Air brake systems should be looked at to ensure they are holding air and there is no damage from winter driving.
“There are a lot of air system parts that are made from plastic and rubber and those components do not do well in our -40 temperatures,” said Van Dellen. “This, combined with anti-freezing agents (methyl hydrate) used by some drivers in air lines, can cause deterioration that may not be noticed until spring thaw.”
Tire pressure should also be checked. Van Dellen points out. Improper inflation can lead to abnormal wear and blow outs while on the highway.
Softer road surfaces are another spring reality.
“Drivers need to be aware of road bans on their routes as spring arrives,” said Van Dellen. “As well, if a driver does run into highway troubles and has to pull over to the shoulder, be aware shoulders are not as hard as they were in the winter and they could sink into softer shoulders and tip over depending on what kind of unit they are operating.”
Van Dellen reiterated Sandhu’s point about increased traffic once spring arrives.
“Non-commercial roads users tend to drive faster in the nicer weather,” he said, “and they are impatient around the typically slower commercial traffic.”