By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsFebruary 12, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 12, 2019) -- Winter has already delivered some of the worst traveling conditions throughout Fort Drum and the North Country. As community members know all too well, it's not over yet.
The Fort Drum Public Works' Road and Grounds crew is ready for the next round of snow, but employees also want to make sure that the motorists with whom they share the roads are equally prepared.
Sean Johnson, PW municipal services chief, said that the most common safety risks that plow operators encounter are when motorists tailgate or attempt to pass the snow trucks while they are moving snow.
"It can get hectic on the road during a storm and that is going to be a problem anywhere you go, not just on Fort Drum," Johnson said. "The best thing a driver can do is keep a safe distance away, because the last thing any of us want is to see an accident. We don't want someone to get hurt because they did something they shouldn't have done."
Johnson said that plows are not able to stop on a dime, so motorists should not cut into the lane ahead of the truck too quickly. For that same reason, tailgating is not advisable.
"I think 50 feet all the way around is the safest distance," said Dave Kellner, a plow operator with 18 years of experience. "That way, they are out of our blind spots and we can see them."
"When it's snowing hard, there is no amount of mirrors or wingmen in the world that will let our drivers know you are there," Johnson added.
Roger Mott has worked the snowplows at Fort Drum for the past four winters, and 30 more before that for the city of Watertown. Most of the time, he is behind the wheel of a dual-wing plow that is capable of efficiently clearing snow on both sides of the truck.
When the wing is down on a plow, it pushes snow, slush and debris on that side. Vehicles that get too close could incur damage or drivers could temporarily be blinded.
"I wouldn't try to pass a snowplow when that much snow is shooting out," Mott said. "It can be dangerous. That's when you just try to stay out of the plow's way."
Some plows have wing blades that stick out at least 10 feet to the left or right, and may not be visible to other drivers during a snowstorm.
"When it's storming out and all of our hardware is down, some drivers still just want to beat you and try to pull out in front of you," said Brian Croft, who has been a snowplow operator on post since 2006. "But the fact is, they are better off waiting for the plow to go by, because now they are driving through three inches of snow instead of a clean path."
Motorists will actually get to their destination faster by moving slower behind a snowplow than speeding around one. Croft said that he thinks some drivers don't realize the danger they're putting themselves in by attempting to pass a snowplow.
"Then you see them get that look in their eye, like 'why did I do that?'" he said.
The same caution should be applied when approaching snow removal vehicles, salt trucks and loaders in parking lots.
"Always make eye contact with the driver before maneuvering behind them," said Rick Nuijens, Operations and Maintenance Division chief. "Always assume they don't see you."
Kellner said that the best advice he can offer about winter driving is to plan ahead, if possible.
"The worst thing you can do is be in a rush, because that's when you're putting everyone in jeopardy," he said. "Give yourself extra time, to and from. Wake up earlier, get the forecast and plan accordingly."
Fort Drum Public Works offers motorists the following safe winter driving tips:
*Turn on your headlights and tail lights while driving in heavy snow or rain -- day or night.
*Watch for the snowplow's flashing lights and give them plenty of space -- at least 10 car lengths. Remember that the road surface ahead of a plow hasn't been cleared yet, so do not attempt to move in front of the plow.
*When a snowplow's wing blades are down, do not attempt to pass. Snow, salt and debris can hit nearby vehicles and decrease visibility.
*Assume the snowplow operator cannot see you, especially when you are driving too close or in whiteout conditions.