Law of the month

State Patrol reminds drivers that snowplows require extra room to operate

With another winter travel season underway, the Wisconsin State Patrol is reminding motorists to be extra cautious when driving near snowplows - and to consider staying off roadways when winter storms make travel treacherous.

“Most collisions between snowplows and other vehicles occur when the snowplow is rear-ended, usually by a driver travelling too fast for conditions,” Wisconsin State Patrol Colonel Charles Teasdale said. “Snowplow operators may need to slow down or stop suddenly if they encounter a stranded vehicle or other obstacle. Visibility is poor during major winter storms and is another reason to simply stay off roadways until conditions improve.”

State law (346.915) requires drivers to stay at least 200 feet behind a snowplow engaged in snow/ice removal upon any highway with a posted speed limit of more than 35 mph.
Violations can result in a $175 fine and assessment of three demerit points. Being involved in a crash however can have consequences much more serious than a citation. Since 2008, there have been 3,459 snowplow-related crashes in Wisconsin resulting in 571 injuries and five fatalities.

As part of the December Law of the Month, the State Patrol offers these winter travel tips:

  • Before your trip, check the 511 travel information system for the latest on road conditions and possible incidents.

  • During severe winter storms, postpone your trip if possible. Stranded motorists and vehicles become hazards that interfere with snow removal efforts.

  • If you must travel: buckle up, turn on your low-beam headlights, slow down, allow extra time and following distance (at least 200 feet behind a working snowplow). 

  • If you must pass, be careful. Snowplows often create a cloud of snow that can obscure vision. Road conditions in front of the plow are often worse.

  • Don’t be over-confident if you operate a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle. They still require a considerable distance to stop on slick roadways.

“Snowplow operators work during challenging weather conditions to help keep roadways as safe as possible for all of us,” Colonel Charles Teasdale said. “Motorists can help by giving snowplows plenty of room to operate and by staying off the roads during severe winter storms.”

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website provides more tips on safe winter driving, things to consider should you become stranded, keeping your vehicle properly maintained and how to prepare an emergency winter travel kit.

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