Do you know what to do when you come upon snow plows clearing the roads? It can be even more confusing when the plows are on the highway staggered across all lanes.

Cindy asks Jim Piccola, Public Information Officer for Department of Transportation in Region 2, what commuters should do when encountering snow plows to keep everyone safe.

Cindy: What should drivers do when they come upon snow plows in echelon formation?

Jim Piccola: The drivers should remain a safe distance behind and should never attempt to pass the snow plows, it’s not only dangerous for the driver, but it’s dangerous for the plow operator. They are plowing in echelon formation specifically because of hazardous conditions ahead.

Cindy: Why is this formation used to plow roads?

Jim Piccola: It’s a much more efficient way to plow the roadway. The entire width of the roadway can be cleared of accumulated snow in one pass.

Cindy: If there is only one snow plow in front of you is it ok to pass it?

Jim Piccola: If traveling on a two-lane highway, no. On a multi-lane highway, you can legally pass, but remember, the road conditions in front of the plow are not going to be as good.

Cindy: Can the person driving the snow plow see vehicles around it?

Jim Piccola: Yes and no. If you are driving behind a plow and you can see their side mirrors than likely based on visibility they can see you. But during heavy snow and/or ice it should never be assumed that the snow plow operator can see other vehicles.

Cindy: When travel is hazardous for commuters is it also dangerous for snow plow drivers?

Yes, on occasions when visibility is reduced almost down to nothing we will pull the plows off the road till conditions improve.

Cindy: Can a snowplow stop quickly?

Jim Piccola: Snowplows can weigh up to 30 tons when fully loaded with salt so stopping in hazardous conditions is a primary concern. Our drivers are highly trained professionals operating airbrake equipment designed to stop efficiently. Generally, plows travel at a speed of 30 to 35 MPH when in operation.

Cindy: How far back should vehicles stay when snow plows are sanding?

Jim Piccola: Cindy (No sand, we use salt) When driving behind a snow plow a good rule of thumb would be, “If you can’t see their side mirrors than they can’t see you”. Generally, vehicles should be at least 2-3 seconds behind active plowing operations, which translates to 103’ to 154’. And depending on the road conditions this 2-3 seconds should be increased.

The best place for commuters to be when the roads are bad is behind a snow plow. Remember to take your time, allow plenty of space between you and other drivers, make sure your lights are on, brake gently and never cruise control on icy roads.

During the Winter, maintenance locations in CNY are staffed 24/7, including holidays.

Bonus Video: