By Andrea Arnold
It’s important to drive with caution at all times, especially during the winter while in the vicinity of highway maintenance crews.
During snow removal season, equipment operators are out on roadways alongside other traffic more often and do not have any control over the actions of other drivers. This became even more apparent for one grader driver in recent weeks when he was plowing near Purden and was hit almost head on by a semi. A recording of the collision was posted on social media creating a frenzy of discussion and accusations.
“It is important for the general public understands our processes,” said YRB Fort George General Manager Ben Scott. “They are in place to provide safe travel conditions. We need time and space to do our job efficiently and safely. Everyone needs to be accountable for their actions on the road.”
This thought is shared by Brock Maguire Operations Manager – EAM Robson serving the other end of the valley.
“Navigating winter roads requires a shared commitment to safety from both motorists and maintenance crews,” he said. “While our (EAM) crews are out working tirelessly to keep our roadways clear, we also require cooperation from the public.”
Scott says that the more space equipment operators have the better. Road maintenance vehicles are included in the “slow down/move over law” that states that motorists are required to slow down and move over for all vehicles stopped alongside the road that have flashing red, blue or yellow lights. Motorists must slow their speed to: 70km/h when in an 80km/h or over zone or 40 km/h when in an under 80 km/h zone. If another lane is available to use while passing a stopped vehicle with flashing lights, drivers are required to use it, when safe to do so.
In the case of road maintenance crews, they can not always stop when there is another vehicle around, as that would seriously hinder their ability to perform their job in a timely manner. Instead, Scott asks that people following equipment leave at least five car lengths between them especially when the truck is spreading sand.
“Most equipment operators, when driving slowly, will give other drivers an opportunity to pass when it is safe,” said Scott. “They are not required to do this at any set intervals, as they are also out to do a job. It is at the driver’s discretion, but they stay aware of the other vehicles travelling.”
Plow trucks usually spray off to the right, however there is some discharge off the left side of the plow as well. Scott says this is a prime example of when more space is better.
Equipment operators start clearing in the middle and push the snow off the shoulder. It is especially important to remember when there is a middle lane that needs attention. When a machine is working on the middle lane, it could appear that the safer option is to pass on the right, however, Scotts says that there is a law stating that it is illegal to pass equipment on the right. This is for the safety of everyone involved.
“On any given truck, the clearing blade sticks out an average of nine inches on either side of the truck,” said Scott. “There is the possibility that the plow might be a wing that sticks out even further, especially on a grader. If a vehicle is passing on the right they run the risk of driving directly into the blade. Even if that is not the case, the discharge of snow from the blade results in loss of visibility for both drivers.”
Scott says that often the best place to be is right behind a plow truck. That is where the best driving conditions possible are.
Although there are safety precautions to consider while driving behind a piece of equipment, Scott says that meeting a plow truck, especially on a corner, is the bigger risk.
Operators will try not to spray sand when meeting an oncoming vehicle. However, their job is to make the roadways safer, and this often includes sanding. They will slow down and slow the spinner that distributes the sand resulting in a lesser spray radius. Drivers meeting them should slow down as well and give as much space as they safely make their way by.
“By leaving extra space between your vehicle and our equipment, you can also avoid unintentional contact with anti-icing chemicals and abrasives that are laid down for road safety.,” said Maguire. “By giving operators the space they need to work, driving to winter conditions, and following proper road etiquette, we can all share the road effectively, working to ensure everyone’s safety during the challenging winter season.”
“Many of our employees are local,” said Scott. “They are from the communities we serve. They take pride and ownership in what they do. They deserve the opportunity to return safely to their families.”