To pass or not to pass?

It’s a cold, windy, snowy night driving on the interstate. You’re in a hurry to get home from a long day at work, but you can’t see very well in the snowstorm. Cruising along, you drive up on some flashing lights and realize it’s a snowplow ahead.

As you get closer to the plow, you think, “What should I do? Should I pass, or do I stay behind the plow?” When encountering a snowplow, we have a few safety tips to take into consideration.

First things first, please slow down. When you approach a snowplow, the driver may not be able to see you. Snowplows have many blind spots, and when the plow is in use, they have even more limited visibility. Drivers hit many plow trucks each year, which endangers the drivers of both vehicles and other motorists in the area. Leaving more space between the plow and your vehicle gives the plow driver and you more time to react should you hit ice or another problem. Driving too close behind the plow can also expose your vehicle to de-icing materials. When approaching a plow, slow down and be aware of your surroundings.

In heavy snowfall and icy road conditions, the safest place to drive is behind a snowplow at a safe distance. Too often, drivers pass the plow and end up driving at a slower speed than the plow itself, in turn, slowing everyone down.

Passing at elevated speeds on icy road conditions is risky. If you should pass a plow, do not pass on the right. There is a wing plow that is on the right side of the vehicle, extends up to 10′, and is typically masked by a snow plume that it creates when clearing the roadway of snow. Don’t pass on a corner, in an area with blocked views, or on an icy stretch that you are uncomfortable passing on; this makes a safer environment for you and surrounding motorists.

If you see a snowplow driving towards you from the opposite direction, be courteous. Again, please slow down and drive on the right side of your lane to give the snowplow enough room to do its job. Many state highways are narrow, so snowplows take up a little more space on the single lane as they need to plow the center line.

Let’s remember, plow drivers are working to make the road safer for everyone to drive. Using caution when driving around a plow can save someone from having a bad day, or even save a life. Snowplow drivers are our friends and neighbors; they have families too and want to end each shift safely. They drive in the most treacherous storms to keep roads open and as safe as possible for all of us. Please show them respect, give them the space they need to work, be attentive, and, most of all, drive safe. We want you and our plow drivers to get home safely every day!

Before you go, don’t forget to pack your winter car emergency kit

Vehicles traveling in winter conditions

Of the many things that Idahoans know a lot about, one of them is how to be prepared. Prepared for the big game, prepared for the campout, and prepared for the road. Whether you’ve lived in Idaho your whole life or are a new resident, it’s important to do everything you can to prepare for an Idaho winter. As the cold weather sets in, so do winter road conditions.

So how do you prepare for Idaho winter travel? We recommend starting by calling or visiting 511.idaho.gov to check road conditions and alerting friends and family of your travel plans (especially if you are traveling through areas with poor cellular service). Take time to review a map and make sure you know your path of travel as opposed to relying solely on GPS navigation which can occasionally be incorrect. Once you’ve checked those things off your list, ensure you are prepared for whatever comes your way by packing a winter car emergency kit.

Keeping a winter car emergency kit on hand won’t just benefit you, but it could come in handy for others you come across while traveling. Here are some items we recommend you include when building your winter car emergency kit:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries to use as a light source and signal for help.
  • Jumper cables to jump your own vehicle or assist other motorists.
  • Tire pressure gauge to ensure you are driving with the optimum inflation.
  • Cat litter to use as traction on slick surfaces.
  • Small camping shovel to assist with removing snow around tires and tailpipes.
  • LED flares to alert motorists of a broken down vehicle or roadway obstruction.
  • First Aid Kit for minor injuries and emergencies.
  • High protein food and bottled water to keep you hydrated and give you energy should you be stuck for a period of time. If your food items are in cans, make sure you also have necessary items like a can opener and utensils in your kit as well.
  • Winter coats and gear such as hats, gloves, etc. to help keep your body temperature up.
  • Blanket or a small sleeping bag for warmth in freezing conditions.

Some of the items may seem excessive but if you run off the road, breakdown or simply get stranded during an extreme storm, these items will help keep you warm and safe until roadside or emergency services are able to reach you.

For those that already have a winter car emergency kit in a vehicle, make sure you do an annual check of items to ensure they are in good condition and working order – remember, food expires and batteries don’t hold their charge forever. Also, if you do find yourself stuck in the snow, don’t run your vehicle without first ensuring the tailpipe and up to three feet behind your vehicle is free of snow; this, along with opening your windows, will prevent deadly carbon monoxide from building up inside the automobile.

As a parting note, be sure to replace worn windshield wipers, keep gas in your car and have the proper tires on before driving in winter weather conditions. Keeping all of that in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being prepared for an Idaho winter.