Stay back from snowplows to avoid crashes this winter season

The Wisconsin State Patrol urges caution as we head into winter, to ensure snowplow drivers are able to clear roads safely throughout the season. Highway departments spend hours working to clear the roads for safe travel after every snowfall, plowing nearly 115,000 miles of roads across the state.

Crews are often working when other drivers are also on the roads, which can lead to dangerous conditions. There were nearly 300 crashes involving snowplows in Wisconsin last year. 

Wisconsin state law requires vehicles to stay back from a working snowplow at least:

·        200 feet on a road with a posted speed limit more than 35 mph

·        75 feet on a road with a posted speed limit under 35 mph.

The December Law of the Month is a reminder that these important protections are in place to keep all motorists safe in winter, including snowplow operators.

“This law is designed to save lives. It creates a safety zone to make sure drivers following a snowplow have enough time to stop without causing a crash. We all know it’s harder to control a vehicle when roads are slippery, so drivers need to slow down and be patient. Give plow crews extra room to do their important work that will ultimately keep all of us safe,” Superintendent Tim Carnahan said.

Snowplows must travel slowly to clear the roads, but passing a plow is generally discouraged. Plows often create a cloud of snow that can obscure visibility. Plus, road conditions ahead of a plow are likely worse.

Use extra caution if you do decide to pass and keep as much distance as possible. The snowplow’s wing blade can extend up to 10 feet beyond the width of the truck. Many snowplow wing blades are hit each season by vehicles attempting to pass a snowplow.

Safe driving all winter season

Winter weather contributed to nearly 19,000 crashes in Wisconsin last season (Oct. 2022 to May 2023). Those incidents led to 39 deaths and 3,799 injuries. Most of those crashes happened in December and January when winter conditions typically begin to ramp up.

The State Patrol recommends the following winter driving tips:

·        Know before you go. Before heading out, check for road conditions or incidents along your route. Consider postponing your trip if conditions are dangerous. Allow extra travel time.

·        Snow means slow. Many winter crashes and slide offs are caused by drivers going too fast in hazardous conditions. Speed limits are set for when roads are clear and dry, so it may be too dangerous to drive the speed limit in slippery conditions.

·        Increase following distance. Stay farther back from all vehicles to allow more time to stop if needed. Don’t be overconfident in four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicles. All vehicles require additional time and distance to stop in adverse conditions.

·        Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. Have a fully charged phone and charger for emergencies.

·        Stay buckled up in your vehicle and call for help if you get stranded or slide off the road. Getting out of the vehicle is very dangerous, especially in winter weather.

View the December Law of the Month video and news release online: