Safe Driving with Trucks in Strong Winds

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:

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.

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.  

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.

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.   

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.

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.  

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.

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.  

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:

Safe Driving with Trucks in Heavy Rain and in Bad Weather