How to Safely Crest a Hill

truck

“The driver told police he reached down to get a cigarette as he crested a hill. When he looked back to the road, he saw the vehicle and tried to move into the left lane, but could not shift over quickly enough to avoid hitting it, according to the report.”  A 3 year old girl was killed and her grandparents and sister were injured.

Hills are a fact of driving. Because hills represent a zone of limited visibility, there is always an element of risk in cresting a hill. Is the path clear ahead or will there be a hazard on the road? A reduced *visual lead time may not allow enough time to reduce speed or maneuver the vehicle. At night the light beam might not show any low profile hazards below the crest. (*Normally at least 20 to 30 seconds ahead.)

The classic definition of a low risk driver is:

“A driver who identifies real and/or potential hazards, and reduces the risk of these hazards by adjusting speed and/or position and communicates to others his/her intentions.”

In cresting a hill, the opportunity to reduce speed is a given. Depending on the slope of the hill, the driver may already have lost momentum and is below the speed limit. But a good driver should always drive to conditions, so depending on the how steep the hill is, a driver should travel over the crest of the hill at a safe speed. And a safe speed is always a speed that will enable the driver to stop in an assured safe distance.

When training truck drivers to crest hills, I always recommend they listen to the sound of the engine as the vehicle starts to go up the hill. The engine should not be straining or start smoking before the crest of the hill. The driver should slowly start to back off the accelerator if the engine starts to strain or smoke. By doing so, a driver can naturally scrub off a lot of the speed before the crest of the hill. Sometimes this means your vehicle will be going over the hill at a crawl, but so be it. The driver must always maintain control of the forward momentum of the vehicle, and that means always being able to bring it to a stop in an assured safe distance.

Once on the other side of the hill, lost speed can naturally be regained on the downside. This is how we run the hills in our neck of the woods.