They're big, orange, and have flashing lights - yet drivers still hit them
December 2, 2019 -- Road agency plow trucks are large vehicles, usually painted orange, and festooned with flashing amber and green lights, yet each winter they are hit by other vehicles.
Tim Johnson, state highway foreman for the Otsego County Road Commission, said that, while it's thankfully not a daily occurrence, it's still surprising how often other drivers run into road commission, city or Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) plow trucks.
"One of our left-lane plow trucks was hit twice on I-75 last winter, Jan. 28 and 30 of this year," Johnson recalled. "The first hit destroyed the rear sander and sheared the bolts that hold the wing mount to the truck. The second also sheared the wing mount bolts, as well as destroying the suspension air bags."
Fortunately, in the two Otsego County crashes, neither the plow driver nor the occupants of either private vehicle were hurt. In both cases, however, the plow truck was disabled for five to six hours while they were being repaired, leaving them out of commission when they were needed to help clear roads, and the private vehicles were totaled.
"Thankfully there have not been any secondary crashes due to the vehicles being disabled on the road," Johnson said. "My worst fear is losing one of my drivers while they are outside checking on the other people and being hit by another motorist."
For the past five winters, an average of 17 MDOT plow trucks have been struck by other drivers. Aaron Begley, MDOT's Atlanta Operations Facility manager, said his plow operators see all kinds of unsafe driver behavior from their vantage point, such as driving too fast for conditions and passing vehicles on the right.
"It's frustrating, because our operators are doing the best they can to make the roads as safe as possible for the given weather, and some drivers don't give us the space to do that," Begley said. "Drivers should remember that the roads are usually worse ahead of our plows and the best decision is to slow down and make it to your destination safely."
Modern plow trucks may not just have a front-mounted or underbody plow but also a wing plow that can be retracted or extended on either side of the truck to clear the road shoulder and travel lane in one pass. While these wings are usually painted bright orange and are equipped with flashing lights as well, they can be obscured by blowing snow.
Photo caption information:
A screen shot from the in-cab photo of an MDOT plow truck shows an example of the unsafe winter driving behaviors operators encounter while plowing and salting Michigan highways. MDOT photo.
This Otsego County Road Commission plow truck was damaged on Jan. 28, 2019, when it was rear-ended by a pickup truck trying to pass it on I-75.
This pickup truck struck and damaged an Otsego County Road Commission plow in a crash on Jan. 28, 2019. Fortunately, despite the extensive damage to both vehicles, neither driver was injured.