Ice Road Driving Safety: What You Need To Know

Each winter, hundreds of miles of ice roads are constructed across the Northwest Territories by companies like D W Jensen Drilling Ltd . Truck drivers as well as others pass across these barren highways of ice in order to transport much-needed supplies to towns, camps and job sites all throughout northern Canada. For ice roads to be a successful venture, there must be a commitment upon the part of drivers to operate their vehicles within the strictest confines of safety. Below are several guidelines for drivers to keep in mind as they traverse the ice roads:

Obey speed limits

One of the most basic, yet also one of the most critical rules of ice road driving is to strictly obey speed limits. While it may seem rational to assume that faster speeds provide less stress to ice roads, the reality is that high speeds can damage and destroy ice roads. Fast vehicles create shallow troughs that extend across the roadway, and these troughs only deepen and worsen with repeated high-speed use of the roads.

In addition, trucks and other vehicles traveling at high speeds aren't able to stop in time to avoid accidents and may flip or roll if confronted with the need to take evasive action. Ice roads can bring many surprises, including chips, cracks and even open areas that have been "blown out" by under-the-ice wave action. Fast driving keeps drivers from seeing those potentially-deadly obstacles and hazards.

Ensure that weight limits are followed

For ice roads, the amount of weight on the roads is another critical factor in determining whether a truck might collapse the ice. A failure to adhere to posted weight limits is an invitation to accident and loss of life or property. If you have any doubts about your vehicle's weight, contact your employer to ask for assistance in knowing how much can be safely carried. Contact the appropriate authority at each ice road check-in location to learn the latest on road conditions and ice thicknesses.

Stay on marked roads

Even if a surrounding area looks the same as an ice road, resist the urge to travel off-road. There is much more to an ice road than its visible appearance; for example, builders may add to the thickness of the ice along the road with supplemental water or packed snow. Areas off the road may have fissures, thin spots or other hidden dangers. "Shortcuts" are a bad idea, and taking one may cost you your life.

Be diligent to prevent leaks

When driving a heavy vehicle under any circumstances, cargo leaks are not only costly but potentially dangerous. For a vehicle on the ice roads, a leak can prove to be devastating. A variety of chemicals, including fuels, will melt ice and seriously weaken its structure.

That's why it's vital to carry along a portable leak containment unit, also known as a "duck pond", which serves a temporary container to collect leaking liquids. These units will protect both the road and environment from costly, dangerous accidents. In addition, make frequent inspections of equipment and containers, such as tank trailers, to be sure you catch any incipient leaks.

Carry survival gear

When you travel in a barren, harsh landscape such as northern Canada during winter, there should be little doubt as to the necessity of having the appropriate survival equipment close at hand. Some items you will want to keep with you include:

  • Blankets
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • Winter clothing, such as gloves, caps and long underwear
  • Signaling device
  • Radio with batteries or crank charger
  • Non-perishable, high-protein food items and water
  • Emergency flares
  • Fire starting device

Check-in before entering an ice road

Before you enter an ice road, it is imperative to check-in with the appropriate persons at each entrance. That is the only way your whereabouts may be known with any degree of certainty; otherwise, if you are in an accident or your vehicle is disabled, no one may be able to locate you. In addition, be sure to check-out as well when you leave an ice road to help keep your location clear to others.