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Ask a Trooper: Snow plow crashes

January 23, 2015
By Trooper Vince Kurtz - Iowa State Patrol Safety Education , Estherville News

Q: I noticed a lot of accidents involving snow plows lately. Besides the snow and slick roads, are there any other causes?

A: This is a timely topic, even though at press time the forecast is calling for highs in the upper 40's yet today. The January thaw may be upon us, but I wouldn't break out the khaki shorts just yet. There is sure to be plenty of winter yet ahead of us.

Our question this week is referring to the recent series of winter storms that tracked across the state in conjunction with lower than normal temperatures and high winds. A report from WHO TV in Des Moines indicated that 12 different snow plows were involved in crashes on January 7 alone. Details of each incident are not available, but with so many crashes it gives us the opportunity to highlight important issues in snow plow safety.

n Exemptions with a purpose Most motorists are probably not aware that snow plows are granted several exemptions from the Iowa Code when in active snow removal operations. Code section 321.233 exempts snow plows from minimum speed requirements, backing requirements, wrong way on the highway, and yielding half of the roadway sections. These exemptions are designed to give plow operators the ability to clear roads in a variety of situations and weather conditions. It does not grant them a 'blank check' to violate any other regulations.

n Pass or not to pass? - While the code of Iowa does not expressly prohibit passing snow plows, the chance you take when passing is far from worth the risk. If plows are out in active snow removal, road conditions have already deteriorated to the point that normal travel has been affected. Why sacrifice a cleared road behind the plow for a snowy road that you think you can go faster on by passing? And that doesn't even take into consideration the limited visibility experienced when passing the plow. Could there be an oncoming vehicle that you don't see?

n Move over for emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and snow plows - If a plow is stopped on the side of the road with flashing lights activated, move over and slow down for them just as you would for an emergency vehicle in the same situation. Tow trucks in recovery operations fall into this category as well. Give these workers the room needed to safely get their work done.

On the 'Top 10 List of Thankless Jobs', snow plow operators are sure to be towards the top. The only time they get noticed is when the road isn't cleared, or a mailbox gets destroyed. Let's all take a moment during the January thaw to re-evaluate our approach to snow plows. The second half of winter is just around the corner.



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