Safety on Our Roads – Driving Around Plows


It should come as no surprise that snowplowing operations usually take place during very poor visibility and dangerous driving conditions. As drivers, we need to be aware of how our driving impacts snowplowing operations, and use extra caution to keep everyone safe on the road.

Keep in mind that municipal snow plows are big – the length of some of these vehicles is 35-40 feet, and width with the wing plow is about 14 feet (your car is less than seven feet). A plow driver’s visibility is limited by precipitation and snow being thrown by the plow blades. Also, snowplow drivers are contending with traffic, parked cars, rural mailboxes, guide rails, ditches, pedestrians, and residents shoveling or blowing out their driveways.

Because snowplows typically travel slowly, passing them is tempting but can be difficult and dangerous. Keep in mind that snowplows are large, and the plow blades make them extra-wide therefore requiring more distance and time to safely pass. The road conditions in front of a plow are almost always worse than behind the plow. A better strategy is to leave yourself plenty of extra time to get where you need to go in bad weather, so you don’t feel rushed and tempted to try to pass a snowplow.

A major safety issue around snowplows is that vehicles tend to follow plows too closely. Getting roads cleared of snow often requires plows to back up, usually at intersections, where they must turn the corner, dump the load of snow, and back up before continuing. Also, plow drivers sometimes need to make unexpected maneuvers to avoid hazards such as parked or stranded vehicles along the roadway. Keeping a safe distance is important to avoiding accidents.

When a snowplow is approaching, it is important that drivers move as far to the right as they safely can to make sure that there is plenty of space for the oncoming plow blade, which can be difficult to see in blowing or heavy snow. Plows need to keep the center of the road cleared, so give them plenty of space.

Finally, turn on your headlights when driving in any poor weather conditions, both to see and to be seen. Keep your headlights and taillights clear of snow by brushing them before heading out. Winter driving requires motorists to be careful and alert, but the most important tip for winter driving is: SLOW DOWN!

Remember, plow operators are driving a large vehicle with a wide, heavy plow on the front, a wing plow on the side, a load of sand or salt with controls for applying the sand or salt on the roadway, all of which must be operated by one person while driving this rig in poor visibility at all hours of the day and night. These employees are trying to keep our roads as safe as possible while contending with miserable weather conditions, impatient motorists, and objects along the highway. It’s in everyone’s interest to give them our respect and cooperation.