Winter Driving: Caution Required around Snow Plows
by Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT)
December 18, 2008
As winter weather settles into Wyoming, travel conditions can change from minute to minute, mile to mile and create real challenges for motorists. Snowy conditions require more attention and less speed.
Before, during and after snowstorms, crews from the Wyoming Department of Transportation will be out performing anti-icing and de-icing operations as well as plowing snow and sanding icy areas to keep the highways open and safe for the public.
"When you see the amber and white flashing lights, motorists should slow down, especially at night or in other low light conditions when depth perception may be inaccurate. Motorists also need to be aware that our snow plows travel at slower speeds, often 35 to 45 M.P.H. while plowing and even slower while sanding, so slowing down will give motorists time to react to these changes," said Theresa Herbin, WYDOT public involvement specialist for Southwest Wyoming.
Each year, District Three has at least six snowplows struck while in operation. The most common and serious accident is a rear-end collision, which can be prevented by slowing down and allowing more distance between the motorist and snow plows.
Giving as little as six seconds following distance behind the plow will greatly reduce the likelihood of running into the back of the sanding unit of the plow. Following too close to the plows prevents the driver from being able to see that there is a motorist behind them. "Our plows usually turn around to plow the other lane every 20 miles or so, so they probably wouldn’t be in front of you very long anyway," Herbin said.
The sanders are usually in operation and following too closely can also result in cracked and chipped windshields. "Staying well back behind the plows is one of the safest places to be if you use your head and not your feet," she said.
Other tips for sharing the roadways safely with snow plows are:
- Avoid using cruise control in winter driving conditions. "You need to be in control of your vehicle and not let the cruise control make a bad decision for you," Herbin said.
- Remember that Wyoming has no minimum speed limits. Posted speed limits are set for when pavement surfaces are dry and clear.
- Adjust speed for road conditions. On wet roads, motorists should reduce their speed by 5-10 miles an hour. On snow packed roads, reduce speed by half. When roads are icy, speed should be reduced to a crawl, or even slower if there is traffic ahead, to maintain a steady flow of traffic. "Motorists need to have patience and go with the flow, even if traffic is only going 40 M.P.H and stay safe for everyone’s sake," she said.
- Never pass a plow on the right, or drive on the right shoulder to pass a plow. On non-interstate highways, snow plows discharge snow on the right. Many plows have a wing plow that takes up an additional 6 to 7 feet of space beyond the width of the plow. Discharged snow can conceal the wing from the view of traffic behind them.
- Be alert. White clouds are not common to the roadway and are most likely ‘snow fog,’ a fluffy snow discharged from the plow blades. Never drive into a cloud where visibility is limited and a rear-end collision is likely.
- Use caution when passing. Make certain that the view of oncoming traffic is unrestricted when passing on two lane roads and pass only when it is safe.
- The front plow also can create a fluffy cloud of snow. Never drive into a snow cloud, as it may be concealing a snow plow.
- It is typical for snow plows to pick up the plow and come back later if there is a vehicle near the highway, but sometimes the hydraulics may not react fast enough, and cover the vehicle with snow or other debris discharged by the plow blades. To be safe, avoid stopping too close to the highway when approaching a highway from a side road if you see a snow plow coming.
- On multiple lanes, be alert for snow plows operating in either lane.
- Don’t stay beside a plow for long periods of time. When plowing through a snowdrift or packed snow, the impact can move the snow plow sideways.
- Don’t crowd the plow. Snow plows plow far and wide – sometimes very wide if they use a wing plow. The front plow extends several feet in front of the truck and may cross the centerline and shoulders while plowing.
Herbin urges motorists to drive for conditions they encounter. "It’s far better to arrive at your destination late rather than to not arrive at all. Our crews on the road are out there to see that everyone gets home safely at the end of the day," she said.