Mr. Snowplow created in response to repeated snowplow strikes

A concerted effort was launched in late December amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes around the state.The first vehicle to hit an ITD snowplow came on Dec. 9, and then two more on Dec. 16. When a fourth happened just a few days later along with a couple of incidents where the plow had to run off the road to avoid being hit, the campaign was born. And to personalize it a bit, the caricature “Mr. Snowplow” was created by Justin Smith, the new Public Information Officer (PIO) for districts 5 and 6 (East Idaho).

“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” Smith explained. This included multiple social-media posts, press releases, and interviews with local media. A spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers wrote the poem “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved” and District 1 & 2 (North & Panhandle Idaho) PIO Megan Jahns posted it just before Christmas. The poem is listed at the bottom of this story. The post went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada. The result of the campaign was a much higher awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them. As a result, plow strikes dramatically decreased.

At that point, Smith saw an opportunity.

“I was watching the rapidly growing metrics on the Mr. Snowplow social-media post and noted we were still getting media requests for interviews, handled primarily by District 4 (South-Central Idaho) PIO Jessica Williams. I realized the poem hit an emotional cord with families, bus drivers, truckers, and others. It seemed tome the poem personified the snowplows and really changed how people viewed them – less as an impediment and more as a caring person who worked long hours to keep our roads safe,” Smith said. “I thought that a cartoon version of Mr. Snowplow would help us capitalize on the goodwill of the snowplow campaign. Taking an existing photo and using Photoshop, the snowplow was transformed into a cartoon character and acts as a kind and polite spokesman during our winter safety campaigns.”

“The idea was not to guilt people or try to use scare tactics about danger, but to have a friendly and kind personification. Mr. Snowplow is just a big friendly guy that kindly asks people to drive responsibly,” Smith explained. “Not necessarily a mascot, but more of a spokesman for winter safety. The idea is to make him extremely polite, and gentle so we humanize the plow drivers and help people think of plows as more than just obstacles.”

The entire campaign was innovative for a number of reasons. First, it was a spur-of-the-moment push to address a problem we saw that was a significant safety issue for our drivers and the community. Smith and Jahns worked to immediately get the word out in a way that was more effective than simply saying we had another plow strike. Rather than focus only on traditional media, they used social media as the primary lever to move the public’s perception of snowplows. Jahn’s statewide press release spurred reporters to see the problem as a significant issue, and Smith called local media to let them know we wanted to get the word out about snowplow safety. Newspapers, radio, and television across the state quickly picked up the story and printed or posted stories. There also were numerous comments in broadcast media about snowplow safety when announcers were discussing weather.

The campaign also has spawned Mr. Snowplow coloring pages, and versions of the character that can be modified to fit any specific need, along with a section of white space in the lower left-hand corner where text can be added. Also, Mr. Snowplow was created on a separate layer of Photoshop, so it’s easy to superimpose him on other images.

Here’s the poem mentioned earlier:

Clarissa is the wife of Tim Moon, a five-year veteran with ITD in District 1. She recently authored the poem below as a gift to her husband of 15 years, and the rest of us at ITD sure appreciate her creative messaging. Thank you to everyone who makes our winters safer in Idaho!

Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, please move out of my way.
Don’t you know I’m in a hurry and I’m already running late.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you stop to eat.
My wife is waiting at the restaurant where we plan to meet.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you take a day off.
My street hasn’t been plowed, I’ll call your boss and scoff.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, why do you move so slow.
Don’t you know I’m just trying to get to my family back at home.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you leave a berm.
Don’t you know I have to take Grandma to get her perm.

Please just take a moment to thank the folks behind the plow.
They sacrifice time with friends and family to clear all the snow.
Without these men and women, traffic would come to a halt.
Just say a little thank you and don’t gripe about the salt.
From the wife of a plowman, things get lonely at home.
Keep us in mind when you want to whine and moan.
In the winter, we spend a lot of time alone.
Next time you see a plowman, give a smile and wave.
Thank them for all the sacrifices that they’ve made.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, from your little wife.
Thank you for being a blessing in my life.
I love you Mr. Plowman! ♥

ITD issues reminder on plow safety following six incidents in two weeks

Stock photo of another vehicle hitting a plow

Stock photo shown above. 

With snow in the forecast for several regions in the state, the Idaho Transportation Department would like to remind drivers how to travel with plows on the road.

In just the last two weeks, there have been four incidents of drivers striking plows and two incidents of drivers forcing them off the road. This compares to eight plow strikes recorded last year. Most of the collisions have occurred after other drivers tried passing plows on the right.

Drivers should be aware that most ITD trucks have two plows: one on the front, and one that extends from the right side known as a wing plow. Lights alert drivers to the presence of wing plows, but during storms those lights and the wing plows can be obscured by plumes of snow.

So far this winter, plows have been struck in nearly every region of the state:

  • On Dec. 9, a plow was hit on Interstate 90 near the Rose Lake exit when a driver tried to pass on the right.
  • On Dec. 14, a plow on U.S. Highway 95 near Moscow was forced off the road to avoid hitting a vehicle that had lost control and was in the opposing lane.*
  • On Dec. 16, a plow was hit on U.S. Highway 20 near Ashton and on Interstate 84 near Twin Falls. Both incidents involved drivers trying to pass on the right. That same night a plow on US-95 near Winchester was forced off the road to avoid hitting a vehicle that had lost control and was in the opposing lane.

The latest plow strike occurred this morning on I-90 near Osburn. Another vehicle attempted to pass the plow on the right, collided with the wing and forced the plow off the road. The driver then fled the scene. The Idaho State Police are investigating the incident.

To date no one has been injured. However, plows must be checked for any damage before being put back into service, which stretches resources thin with a direct impact to driving conditions.

“This time of year drivers need to take their time and never pass a plow on the right,” said Jerry Wilson, the operations engineer for North Idaho. “Let’s all get home safely.”

Know before you go and check 511.idaho.gov for road conditions before traveling. For winter driving tips, visit itd.idaho.gov/travel.

*Post updated Dec. 23 to reflect that this near-collision occurred on Dec. 17 on Palouse River Drive near the Moscow shed.

It’s time to be “Idaho Ready” for winter driving

Ahead of the busy holiday travel season, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) encourages drivers to be “Idaho Ready” for winter driving. ITD’s annual winter safety campaign aims to help drivers prepare for challenging conditions on the state’s highways, before hitting the road.

“Idaho Ready” tips and resources will be shared weekly through ITD’s social media accounts and website itd.idaho.gov/travel. Short videos, blog posts, infographics, and photos will teach drivers how to safely get around this winter. Planned topics include navigating the new Idaho 511, general winter driving tips for Idaho newcomers, how to keep vehicles ready for colder temperatures, and snowplow ride along videos to hear safety advice straight from ITD operators.

Each winter ITD’s 550 hardworking snowplow operators travel a combined 3.4 million miles clearing roads across the state. “Idaho Ready” also focuses on keeping these important employees safe. When encountering a snowplow on the road, drivers are reminded, the safest place is behind the plow—never pass a snowplow on the right.

Other quick winter travel tips:

  • Check the road conditions before traveling. Visit 511.idaho.gov or download the Idaho 511 app for an easy look at weather reports, cameras, and more. Idaho 511 updates are now tweeted too! Follow @Idaho511 on Twitter.
  • Keep a winter emergency kit in your car with food/water, small shovel, warm blanket, etc.
  • When roads are wet or icy, slow down and give yourself more stopping distance. Turn off cruise control and remember, bridges and overpasses are the first to freeze when temperatures drop.
  • If you do slide, stay calm, brake very gently, and turn your wheel in the direction of the skid. Try not to overcorrect.
  • Keep your windshield completely clear of snow and ice. Fill up on windshield washer fluid, make sure your tires are in good shape, and battery is charged. Learn how to use tire chains and carry them with you.
  • Give our snowplow drivers room to work. Never pass a snowplow on the right! The safest place is behind the plow where the road is clear.
  • Let others know your travel plans, especially if you will be driving through areas with no cell service. Check in when you make it.
  • Beware of drowsy driving! Stop and rest when needed, and plan breaks on long road trips. Rest areas are mapped on Idaho 511.
  • If your holiday celebrations include alcohol, plan ahead for a sober ride home. Look out for your friends and family and help them get home safely too.
  • Buckle up, stay engaged behind the wheel, and drive for the conditions this winter.

Follow along with ITD and the Idaho Ready campaign this winter: