DOT urges caution, patience around snowplows

Posted 12/28/10

With heavy snow in the forecast and winter just beginning, The New York State Department of Transportation (is urging travelers to use caution near snowplows. “Every year, motorists and pedestrians …

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DOT urges caution, patience around snowplows


With heavy snow in the forecast and winter just beginning, The New York State Department of Transportation (is urging travelers to use caution near snowplows.

“Every year, motorists and pedestrians take chances by passing, driving too closely behind or walking near snowplows engaged in clearing snow and ice on roadways, and every year there are needless accidents and injuries as a result of these careless actions,” said NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee. “During winter storm events, drivers should exercise caution, obey the rules of the road, drive slowly and yield to snowplows so that everyone can return home safely at the end of the day.”

Snow plow operators have difficulty seeing motorists and pedestrians that are too close to the plows because their field of vision is limited due to blind spots. In addition, the wing blades of these vehicles obscure side views. The size and weight of snowplows make them difficult to maneuver or stop quickly, especially since the highway ahead of a plow often is slippery or snow-covered. These are all reasons to give plows plenty of room.

State law requires that “hazard vehicles,” which include vehicles engaged in ice and snow removal, have amber lights. The amber light is a warning to motorists and pedestrians to expect the unexpected, and to stay clear of the oncoming plow.

About 3,650 NYSDOT snowplow operators and supervisors are responsible for maintaining the 38,635 lane miles of state highway in New York through a fleet of more than 1,400 snowplows and 50 truck-mounted snow blowers for routine winter operations.

Snowplows travel at about 35 miles per hour -- often lower than the posted speed limit -- to maximize clearing the snow and minimize salt scattering off pavements. On interstate highways, snowplows frequently travel side by side in order to clear several lanes at once. Therefore, it can be frustrating to drivers who, despite winter road conditions, may be in a hurry, and attempt to pass the plow.

For safety reasons, motorists and pedestrians should adhere to the following guidelines the DOT has issued:

• Stay a safe distance away from snowplows. The safest place for motorists is well behind the snowplows where the road is clear and salted. The safest place for pedestrians is on the sidewalk, and in clear vision of the snowplow driver.

• Never assume that a plow driver can see you.

• Yield to a snowplow, giving the plow a wide berth with room to maneuver.

• Beware of deicing materials that may be released from the plow and keep your distance from them.

• Motorists should make sure to have clear vision ahead and that passing is permitted before attempting to pass a snowplow.

• On two-lane roads where passing is not permitted, be patient, and wait until the plow pulls over to the side of the road before passing.

• Be mindful of where snowplows are on multi-lane highways. Watch for plows in travel lanes, on a shoulder or entering the road from a ramp or median turnaround. They also may need to back up, which may impede routine traffic flow.

• After passing a snowplow, use caution when returning to the driving lane ahead of the plow. The plow blade extends several feet ahead of the truck.

• Move as far away from the center line as safely possible when meeting a snowplow on a two-lane road coming from the opposite direction.

• Watch for “white-outs” created by blowing snow coming off the snowplow blade.

• Don’t travel beside a plow for sustained periods, especially when the plow is cutting through deep snow. Plows can be pushed sideways after hitting drifts or snow banks.

In general, travelers should follow these winter road safety tips:

• Adjust speed for road conditions and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. Increase your following distance when roads are slippery or visibility is poor. Schedule extra time for winter travel and be patient during ice and snow removal operations.

• During a winter storm, motorists will encounter snow- and ice-covered roads even when plows are operating. Drivers must exercise extreme care and diligence while traveling during winter weather.

• Stay alert! Whether driving or walking, stay focused on what you are doing. Accidents are caused by distracted driving and walking.

• Bridge surfaces are slippery, as they freeze more quickly than road surfaces. Use caution.

• Equip your car with emergency supplies including sand, shovel, flares, booster cables, rope, ice scraper, portable radio, flashlight, extra warm clothes and a cell phone.

• Inform a responsible person of your destination, intended route, and estimated time of arrival.

• Stay calm and do not panic in case of a vehicle breakdown, accident, or if you become snowbound. Never venture from your vehicle if snowbound.