Winter weather is responsible for numerous challenges, including equipment that is designed to clear the way. Drivers need to be extra cautious when sharing the road with snowplows.

When winter snowstorms grip the Northern U.S. and Canada, drivers need to be aware of a potential hazard they are likely to encounter on the road: snowplows.

While it’s advisable to stay home and reschedule appointments or telecommute during particularly snowy weather, there are times when venturing out into the snow and ice is unavoidable.

And just as unavoidable as the snow and ice are snowplows. Snowplows exist to clear the roads and make sure that they’re passable for passenger and commercial vehicles, but when they’re working, they can pose difficulties for the drivers that they’re designed to help.

Be a Good Citizen

First and foremost, when you encounter a snowplow, it’s probably working — plowing the roads and spreading salt — so adhere to the following tips provided by the State of Massachusetts:

  • Drive slowly.
  • Don’t crowd the plow. Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows. Stay back at least 200 feet and don’t pass on the right.
  • Be prepared for sudden stops.
  • Remember that visibility in front of the plow is often worse. Turn on your lights.
  • Brush the snow off your lights and taillights regularly.

Pass with Extreme Caution

If you must pass a snowplow, do so with extreme caution. Keep in mind that because of the often-reduced visibility and the fact that they are focusing on the job at hand, snowplow drivers will not be keeping an eye out for drivers in passenger vehicles. The State of Massachusetts offers the following words of caution if you are on the road and contemplating passing a snowplow or salt spreader:

  • Road conditions will always be safer 200 feet behind the equipment.
  • While it may be feasible to pass a single salt spreader operating on a multi-lane roadway, it’s
    never safe to pass a salt spreader or plow with its blade down, pushing snow.
  • Never pass a group of plows that’s stretched across a roadway and engaged in plowing. They
    are literally passing hundreds of pounds of snow from vehicle to vehicle.

Staying Safe in the Snow

If you do determine that your only option is to pass a snowplow or salt spreader, reduce your speed, pass only on the left, allow extra room for passing — considering the plow blade — and, in the case of the salt spreader, prepare for salt to bounce of your car.

For your part, while driving in snowy conditions, particularly if it is precipitating, make sure your lights are on, you have plenty of wiper fluid, and your tires are in good shape — particularly the tread.

Being able to see and be seen is crucial in any heavy weather situation, so verify that your lights are in good working order, and you have plenty of wiper fluid in the reservoir before you venture out into winter weather.

And check your tread depth, using a quarter. With Washington’s head facing down, if the tread touches Washington’s head—there’s at least 4/32 inch of tread remaining. If you don’t have any change handy, check the  treadwear indicator bar. Several of these are located on the bottom of the tread grooves. When they become visible with the adjacent ribs, the tire has no more than 2/32 inch of depth and should be replaced.

Also make sure you have plenty of fuel or are fully charged before venturing out. In the unfortunate event that you’re in a traffic jam or are diverted in a winter storm — in which case you may be diverted miles out of the way and not have ready access to a fuel or recharging station — you don’t want to be stuck without power out on a cold roadway.


If you find yourself out among snowplows, exercise caution, make sure you can be seen, and be a good citizen by staying back to let the plows do their jobs. Remember, they’re there to serve you.

Drive Safely!

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