Do you know what to do when you come upon snowplows 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 snowplows to keep everyone safe.

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

Jim Piccola: The drivers should remain a safe distance behind and should never attempt to pass the snowplows, 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 snowplow 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 snowplow see vehicles around it?

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

Cindy: When travel is hazardous for commuters, is it also dangerous for snowplow drivers?

Jim Piccola: 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 snowplows are sanding?

Jim Piccola: Cindy (No sand, we use salt) When driving behind a snowplow, a good rule of thumb would be, “If you can’t see their side mirrors, then 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 snowplow. 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:

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

See the Must-Drive Roads in Every State