For Fleet Operators and Truckers, Safe Journey Planning Takes a Weatherperson To Know Which Way the Wind Blows
July 26, 2016
by Nathan Green
Every driver knows the dangers weather can pose on your journey. Businesses and workers, whose office is on the road, are familiar with the typical examples of bad weather—snow, ice, rain, and fog. However, there is an invisible threat that is easy to overlook…wind.
A study by the Kansas Department of Transportation found that between 2003 and 2008, there were 1,739 crashes for which wind was a contributing circumstance. These crashes contributed to 28 percent, 27 percent and 37 percent of the total crashes in Kansas for the years 2005 to 2007, respectively. Wind is not just a Kansas problem; but a problem throughout the Western half of the Nation. Winds are a major factor along many interstates through the western United States and Canada. As a result, the Departments of Transportation in these areas have installed road weather stations and dynamic message signs to warn drivers of hazardous wind conditions. In addition, states such as Wyoming have temporarily banned empty trucks and trailers during high wind events.
If you are driving a high profile vehicle such as a truck and bus, wind can pose a loss of vehicle control, causing accidents, injuries or death to your crews or other motorists. Wind is not only a safety hazard to drivers, it is a productivity hazard that can cause your business money…the difference in breaking even or making a good profit on a load. Exposure to significant winds and crosswinds can damage equipment, increase fuel consumption and cause delays in completing the journey.
Semi-trucks are particularly prone to high winds as the surface of the trailer creates a huge “sail area.” This can cause a trailer to move unexpectedly, causing a loss of vehicle control. When roads are wet and it is raining heavily, the risk increases. The weight of the trailer also adds another factor that can increase accident risk. A light trailer is more susceptible to strong winds than a heavy trailer. Finally, a top heavy trailer or a load that has the potential to shift contributes to even greater stability risk. When wind is blowing at an angle perpendicular to the trailer, bus or RV, a mix of any or all of these factors can lead to swaying, which may make the vehicle impossible to control or in the worst cases, flip over.
High wind events can have a huge financial impact on truckers. Obviously, damage to equipment and goods in an accident can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. A day delay could make a shipment late (missed deadline) or cause perishable items to lose freshness. A delay costs the driver and trucking company in lost productivity and wages. Moreover, strong headwinds can cause an increase in fuel consumption and in some circumstances may limit the forward speed a truck can travel. All of these factors have a negative impact on a company’s bottom line.
What can be done to mitigate the effects of wind? The first step is gaining awareness of current and expected conditions beginning 24 hours before starting a journey. Truckers and dispatchers alike can gather weather forecasts and make weather and wind impacts part of the planning process. Truck fleet operators who travel frequently in wind prone areas should explore custom weather solutions, which may include alerting and truck routing road forecasts to avoid high winds by re-routing or even delaying the start of a journey to avoid the worst impacts. When on the road, truckers should acquire continuous updates of hyperlocal weather conditions, including predictions, to make any adjustments necessary to increase safety and reduce risks to journey completion and profit margin. If winds are unavoidable, truckers should use extra caution, reduce speed and pay extra attention. If the situation becomes hazardous, truckers should stop and delay their journey to avoid accidents and incidents.
In summary, road weather intelligence is getting better and better each year. TruWeather is working with industry leaders in sensing road weather conditions and producing fine-scale forecasts for journey management. By seeking out predictive and active weather route threats, fleet operators and truckers will optimize driver safety, reduce non-productive time and increase margins.