The number of Wyoming snowplows hit while on duty clearing Wyoming’s highways has more than tripled in the last several years.
Wyoming Department of Transportation figures show that in 2020, 26 snowplows were rear-ended, compared to eight in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, the number was 23.
Over the past weekend, another snowplow was hit on 1nterstate 80 between Laramie and Cheyenne, resulting in minor damage to the wing plow on the passenger side. Luckily, the driver was not injured, according to Jordan Achs, senior public relations specialist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT).
Achs said several factors can be blamed for the growth in collisions, including the white-out conditions the plows to create while clearing the roads.
Their speed is also a contributing factor because to plow effectively requires speeds of 35 to 40 mph, making them a target for drivers going too fast for conditions.
The mini-blizzards the snowplows create, especially when the wind is blowing, likewise makes them susceptible to being smacked from behind or to have their wing plows hit by drivers who don’t give themselves enough room to pass.
“These issues with visibility and speed can lead to plow strikes,” Achs said. “Especially if drivers are driving too fast for conditions or driving distracted.”
The majority of the accidents are the result of the plows being hit from behind or on the side.
Miraculously, injuries from accidents tend to be low. The last occurred in February 2021 when a plow was hit on Interstate 80 near Rawlins, causing it to flip completely before landing upside down.
That driver was taken to the hospital for injuries. The accident occurred in the midst of a five-day storm that saw nine other plows hit as well.
Most of the snowplow collisions occur on interstates, with 17 of last year’s 26 accidents occurring on Interstates 80, 90 and 25.
With the 15% shortage of snow plow drivers this year, Achs said the department has heard from foreman and staff that recruiting for drivers, particularly on I-80, is getting increasingly difficult because of high speeds, driver inattention and other poor driving habits on the part of other drivers that put snowplow drivers in peril.
Keeping plows safe
Among the safest ways to guard against collisions with snowmobiles is to slow down and drive at speeds appropriate for the conditions, Achs said.
“Where there’s ice and snow, take it slow,” she said.
Achs said she understand drivers behind snowplows may grow tired of traveling behind them, but added it is vital to give the plows the space they need to work.
Drivers should stay four to five car lengths behind plows and when passing, drivers should wait until the have sufficient space and visibility to do so, Achs said.
She added snowplows should never be passed on the right.