Maintaining control of a truck while traveling downhill can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be if drivers know how to properly brake and control their speed. While runaway ramps should be a last resort, drivers still need to be aware of what to expect in the event they have to use them.

Drivers should study their route ahead of time and make note of any hilly or mountainous areas. Regardless of where drivers are, they must always be alert and watch for warning signs of approaching downgrades. Drivers should shift to a lower gear before they start down a hill. It can be very difficult to change gears while actually on a downgrade as the truck increases speed. The Commercial Driver License (CDL) manual lists the following factors to consider when maintaining a safe speed on a downgrade: condition of the driver (i.e. fatigued, distracted), total weight of the vehicle and cargo, length and steepness of the grade, condition of the truck’s equipment, and road and weather conditions. Too many collisions are the result of drivers overestimating their equipment’s ability to maintain control.

Many drivers make the mistake of applying the brakes to reach the legal speed. Instead, they should use an alternating technique of braking down, building up, then braking down again. According to the CDL manual, brakes should be applied just hard enough to noticeably slow down. When they are slowed down to at least 5 mph below the posted legal/safe speed for trucks, they should release the brakes. When the speed increases again to the speed limit, they should brake down again.

This technique allows drivers to slow down without overusing the brakes but still keeping the truck at the legal speed. Applying brakes to a speeding truck traveling downhill requires harder and longer brake applications which dramatically increase the opportunity for overheated and fading brakes. Engine retarders help to slow down a truck while relieving regular brakes but drivers should not use them if the road is wet, icy or snowy. These and similar conditions can cause a truck’s drive wheels to slow down quicker than they have the traction to do, potentially causing the truck to lose control and jackknife.

Skid marks on the road are a sign that other drivers have had issues maintaining control in that area. Your drivers should proceed with caution. They should also be mindful of other truck drivers who appear to be losing control or moving toward a runaway ramp. Drivers should give these trucks as much room as possible to allow them to regain control and prevent their trucks from being involved in a collision.

Runaway ramps should be considered a last resort. If drivers have to use a ramp, it means they have failed to properly prepare for the situation and did not do everything possible to prevent it. But if the brakes have failed or the drivers have lost control, they should not hesitate to use the ramps. Brakes can fail due to overheating or excessive use going down a grade. Drivers will feel like they have no brakes even when the brakes are fully applied. At that point, runaway ramps are the only way the truck will be able to stop. It may be expensive to remove the truck from the ramp, but not using it can cost drivers and those they share the road with their lives.

Most runaway ramps are located off the right side of the road but all are preceded by warning signs of their location. Trucks should move into the correct lane before approaching downgrades, if possible. As they move onto the runaway ramp, they should steer straight and try to keep the wheels aligned. The ramps typically aren’t very wide and trucks run the risk of rolling over if they go over the edge of the ramp. Once they have stopped, drivers should call 911 to report the incident, even if they were not injured in the process.

There are several types of ramps, but they all essentially do the same thing. Take time to familiarize your drivers about runaway ramps, locations where they are most likely to exist, how to watch for them and what to do if they ever need to use them. Place heavy emphasis on how to maintain control of the vehicle so use of these ramps is not required.

  • Categorized in:
  • Driving Techniques
  • Transportation Safety
  • Distracted Driving