Mountain driving can be dangerous for anyone, especially for a truck driver carrying tons of freight. Looking at the mountains in the distance can be a pretty sight, but driving through them can be hellish. Whether you’re a new truck driver or have years of experience, these tips could be life-saving.
7 Tips for Mountain Driving
1. Inspect before
This is smart for any trucker driving in any terrain. Make sure that your truck is in prime condition before you begin traveling to avoid possible issues. Check the brakes, tires, fluid levels, and make sure there aren’t any leaks. Also, inspect your tire chains even if you don’t anticipate using them, and always carry an extra set.
2. Have a full tank of gas
You may be expecting to make it through the mountains fairly quickly, but the weather and other factors might have a different plan. In some mountain areas, you could drive 100 miles or more without passing a gas pump, so fill ‘er up before you leave. Even if you do find a gas station, it’s likely that they will charge an extra $2-4 per gallon. Low gas levels can be extremely costly not only in a monetary sense but also for your safety.
It’s not uncommon for truck drivers to experience sudden blizzards, storms, fogs, or multi-vehicle crashes while mountain driving. Some of these situations can leave you stranded for a long period, sometimes 24 hours or more. If this would happen and you have a full tank of gas, you’ll be able to have electricity and heat for many hours.
3. Use stop areas at the top
Once you make it up to the top and are getting ready for the descent, see if there’s an area to pull over. Re-check everything, especially the brakes and tires, before you begin the downhill journey. Doing so can help catch any problems that may occur and allow you to properly prepare. This will also help to give your brakes a chance to cool down.
4. Don’t rush
Seriously, take your time. You can take it slow as many times as you want, but you can only take it too fast once. Experienced truckers suggest going 5 mph below the suggested speed limit to ensure safety for you, passengers, and other drivers on the road. Speaking of other drivers, let them pass you. The mountains are not the place for a race, so let them go peacefully and pay attention to what you’re doing – not them.
5. Use proper braking and shifting techniques
When making your descent, it’s a known guideline to be one gear lower than the one you came up in. Also, remember to brake and downshift before the downgrade. People usually brake when they’re already half-way down the hill and they realize they’re going too fast. This can be very harmful to the brakes if you are heavily using them or staying on them, as they can overheat and possibly catch fire. If you try to downshift while going downhill, you have a higher chance of stalling the engine or getting stuck in neutral.
Even when you do brake before the downgrade, you’ll likely still need to apply the brakes on the way. Again, don’t stay on the brakes for an extended period of time, and find your “safe speed.” For example, if your safe speed is 40 mph, you should allow your truck to speed up to 45 mph and then steadily drop your speed to 35 mph. This allows you to let off the breaks for a little while until you speed back up.
6. Beware of changing weather conditions
Weather can change very quickly with the changes in altitude. You could be seeing sunny and clear skies at the bottom, only to meet thick fog or even blizzard-type weather near the top. Mountain driving can be very unpredictable, so be cautious as visibility can vastly decrease within a matter of seconds. It’s also good to keep in mind winter safety tips for when you encounter snow and ice. Remember to take your time in harsh weather, and pull over in a safe area if you need to.
7. Bring food, water, and emergency gear
Be sure to pack a few days worth of food, water, and clothing. A dry pair of clothing could be life-saving in the event that yours get wet. In addition to the basics, make sure you have a toolbox for minor repairs that may arise. Flares, cones, and a first aid kit can also come in handy. Always carry a blanket with you in the event of cold weather and lack of heat.
One other suggestion for mountain driving is to get a CB radio. A handheld radio might not cut it for your journeys, instead invest in a mobile CB radio with an external antenna. This can be especially beneficial if you are making mountain trips regularly. If you have no cell service, a CB radio will still work – you just need to have another person with one in the area. Most truck drivers frequently monitor channel 19, so that’s your best bet for assistance.