Drivers on Alberta highways need to slow down when plows are out.
That’s the message from the safety manager of Volker Stevin Highways after snowplows servicing southern Alberta have been hit 13 times since October – an average of more than one a week.
“There have been really bad ones this week where cars have come full speed, hitting our trucks from behind and causing some severe damage, where the trucks actually are sitting for some time,” Warren Stasiuk told Global News.
Stasiuk said supply chain delays for the specialized equipment can lead to plows being sidelined for weeks on end, directly affecting how quickly snow can be cleared from provincial highways.
He said drivers often mistake the whirlwind of snow the plows create for semi trucks or simply inclement weather – mistakes that can cost thousands of dollars.
“The issues really start when the weather is cold: the snow kind of just sits in the air. If there’s no wind that’s blowing it to the left or to the right, it just hovers there and people just think it might be a semi driving down the road, and they’ll just come right up and then all of a sudden we’re going slow and they hit,” Stasiuk said.
Rear-enders are the most common type of collision, he said, with people clipping the plow blades that extend from the sides of plows being the second most common.
Vehicles hitting snow plows aren’t limited to provincial highways.
City of Calgary snow plow operators have had some “close calls,” especially when a fleet of plows stack up to drive in a diagonal line, known as “echelon plowing.”
“Most of the time that we’ve had the close calls is when we’re trying to do our commuter routes where we’re echelon plowing and trying to (clear snow) from curb to curb,” Jim Fraser with the city said. “Drivers are lacking a little bit of patience and they’re trying to sneak in between our drivers and our operators, and get through and get to their destination a little bit quick.”
But Fraser said he’s seen many instances of drivers being patient, allowing plows the space and time for them to do their work.
On Nov. 1, the provincial government launched a yearlong pilot to add blue signal lights, similar to ones on police vehicles, to the top of snow plows for improved visibility. Snow plows already operate with reflective decals, flashing amber and red lights, and bright operating lights.
Volker Stevin is taking part of the pilot, equipping a portion of their vehicles with the blue lights. Stasiuk said he’s seen results.
“None of our trucks that have been hit have had the blue lights on. Is it working? Maybe.”
Provincial laws state drivers must reduce their speed to 60 km/h or the posted limit, whichever is slower, when passing emergency vehicles or tow trucks that are stopped with their lights flashing.
The Calgary Police Service advise drivers to keep an eye out for flashing lights on vehicles, a warning sign of a possible problem ahead.
“Reduce speed, carefully change lanes if necessary and be prepared to stop,” a CPS spokesperson told Global News.
The snow plow safety manager urged folks to do more than just an emergency kit when hitting the highways: patience will help drivers get to their destination.
“The big thing: slow down. We’re out here to keep everybody safe to get you home,” Stasiuk said. “It’s the Christmas season. We don’t want to see anybody hurt.”