Snowplow drivers warn of winter dangers

Drivers should stay 300 feet behind plows
Snowplow drivers warn of winter dangers

Even after 25 years behind the wheel of a snowplow, Joe Cockroft still gets excited when he sees snow outside.

“It’s like playing in a big sandbox, only it’s snow,” Cockroft said.

Cockroft let News 3’s Dannika Lewis take over the driver’s seat to see just how tough it is to maneuver a truck and talk about what other people on the road need to keep in mind when driving around plows.

“It’s like we’re in their way,” Cockroft said. “But the worst thing about it is we’re not there to do that. We’re there to clear the roads.”

Cockroft has seen everything from people going 50 miles per hour faster than plows to others throwing things at plows along the road. Cockroft also sees people leave their vehicles when they crash or stall out on the side of the road, something he views as more dangerous than anything else.

“Vehicles behind you are going to start crashing behind you, and the worst thing that could happen is you’re going to get hit,” Cockroft said. “And once another driver has no control of that vehicle, they’re going to come right at you, and I do not want to see that.”

During a news conference Thursday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi talked about snow preparations in the county, including the precautions drivers should be taking alongside plow operators.

“These people do what they do to keep all of us safe, and we really hope that people remember to give them the space they need to do the job that they have at hand,” Parisi said.

Dane County snowplow drivers ask others out on the road to stay 300 feet behind a plow.

State law prohibits a car from following a plow clearing a highway at less than 200 feet.

“Just give them a break. Back off of them. Slow down,” Cockroft said. “Let them do their job so they can go home with their families too.”

Parisi also mentioned the county has two new natural gas-powered plows. The plan is to have 15 or so of those plows by the 2015-16 budget cycle.

Parisi also stressed the county’s commitment to new around-the-clock plowing routes.

Snowplow drivers released the following tips for drivers:

Give snowplow trucks plenty of room to operate. The snowplow truck’s plow is wider than one traffic lane. The snowplow truck has the ability to distribute salt across three lanes of traffic. Give the hard-working snowplow drivers room to work.
Stay 300 feet behind snowplow trucks. Snowplow operators often have to stop, turn and back up if they’re clearing an intersection. If you are following too closely, the snowplow driver may not be able to see you.
When you come upon a snowplow, reduce your speed. The traveling speed of a snowplow truck ranges from only 5 to 35 miles per hour.
People have to slow down and give themselves more time to get to work. Bridges have a tendency to get slippery. Don’t change lanes on a bridge.
When you’re driving in winter conditions, don’t get yourself in a position where you have to apply the brakes. If the road is slippery and you apply the brakes, you may lose control of your car.
Do not use your cruise control in slippery road conditions, it may cause you to lose control of your car.
Snowplow drivers are professionals. They work holidays, weekends, during big ball games and are ready to battle the storm.