PHOENIX ‒ Every winter, snowplows play an essential public safety role by clearing snow and ice on Arizona roadways. But when motorists fail to give plows enough room and aren’t careful when traveling near these oversized vehicles, it creates a hazard and makes it more difficult for operators to perform what’s already a challenging job.
“Drivers should stay back at least 100 feet or more when following a snowplow and be aware the plow may need to come to a sudden stop,” ADOT Occupational Safety Manager Bob Stulz said. “The safest place is always well behind a snowplow, but if you must pass, do so cautiously when weather conditions warrant and avoid staying in the snowplow operator’s blind spot for too long.”
ADOT has 450 employees with the extensive training and commercial driver licenses required to operate snowplows. During winter storms, operators typically work 12-hour shifts.
The department has 200 snowplow trucks in its fleet. While most are in places that see the most snow, snowplows are stationed in all of ADOT’s seven regions, including three operating out of the East Valley.
Highways that are typically easy to travel during the summer months can become icy or snow-covered during the winter, especially during major storms. In addition to being extra cautious on snowy and slippery roads, travelers should expect delays in wintry conditions and budget extra time. Motorists need to be aware that posted speed limits are for normal driving conditions. When roads become wet and slippery, slow down.
“With most slide-offs occurring due to drivers traveling too fast for the conditions, it’s essential that all motorists be prepared to slow down and maintain good visibility during heavy snowfall,” Stulz added.
Snowplow operators urge drivers to follow these precautions so everyone stays safe on the road:
- First and foremost, never assume that a plow driver knows you are nearby. If you can’t see the plow driver, there is a good chance the driver can’t see you.
- Always keep a safe distance behind a snowplow ‒ the rule of thumb is four car lengths. Plowed snow can create a cloud that reduces visibility, and spreaders on trucks throw de-icing agents or sand that can damage vehicles.
- Never stop too close behind a plow truck. You never know if the driver might need to back up.
- Never pass a plow truck, especially if it is pushing snow or clearing ice. Some trucks are equipped with a second side plow blade that can be hit by a passing vehicle.
- Watch for snowplows operating in multiple travel lanes or in tandem.
- If approaching an oncoming snowplow, slow down and give the plow extra room.
- It’s important for both large and small vehicles to share the road with snowplows. In addition to driving, plow operators are also focused on what’s going on inside the cab and with situations on the roadway. Snowplows need extra room to turn, so avoid getting into their blind spots.
- Just because a plow truck has been through the area, drivers shouldn’t assume the roadway is completely clear of snow and ice. Don’t speed, and always use caution in winter driving conditions.
- Nighttime plowing is far more difficult than daytime plowing, so use extra caution around snowplows after dark.
For information, visit ADOT’s “Know Snow” website at azdot.gov/KnowSnow.
Before heading out on the roads, drivers are encouraged to call 5-1-1 or log on to ADOT’s Traveler Information Center at az511.gov for the latest highway conditions around the state. The website features real-time images along state highways that give drivers a glimpse of weather conditions in various regions. ADOT’s Twitter feed (@ArizonaDOT) is a great resource for travelers, too.