North Canton Police responded to three accidents during the first “real” snowstorm of the season Wednesday, and only one involved slippery road conditions. That must mean city motorists heed the “Ice and Snow, Take it Slow” warning issued annually by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
According to ODOT research, most motorists have forgotten their safe winter driving skills by the time the first storm hits.
“Because of last year’s mild winter, many of Ohio’s motorists haven’t driven in significant ice and snow in about 20 months,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray.
Last winter there were 16,167 weather-related crashes on Ohio’s roadways. Ice- and snow-related fatalities on ODOT-maintained roads decreased by nearly 20 percent — from 21 to 17.
The agency is trying to further reduce that number this year by investing millions in some flashy new lighting.
ODOT is making history this winter by becoming the first state agency in the nation to use green-colored strobe lights on its snowplow trucks. Studies show green lights are more easily detected by the human eye than other colors. The new green lights, along with new white lights, are being added to the existing amber lights creating a color combination unique to ODOT.
That move is expected to reduce the annual number of accidents related to plows – one of which occurred in North Canton on Wednesday.
Police Chief Stephan Wilder said the accident involved a city snowplow that was backing up while cleaning a street corner. The snowplow truck hit a car that was pulled to within 50 feet behind it.
That’s such a common accident scenario that ODOT created its “Don’t Crowd The Plow” campaign, putting out posters advising motorists how to drive near snowplows. (One of the posters accompanies this story in .pdf form).
Here are some of ODOT’s tips for driving near snowplows:
- Watch out for blind spots: The plow driver’s field of vision is restricted, so you may see them, but they don’t always see you. Here's a trick for determining whether you're back far enough: If you can’t see the plow’s side mirrors, the driver can’t see you.
- Distance: Give snowplows room to work. Don’t tailgate. Instead, keep your distance at two to three car lengths behind the plow. And watch for sudden stops or turns.
- Take it slow: Snowplows travel well below the posted speed limit. Be patient. Try not to pass the plow, as they are wide and can cross the centerline or shoulder.
- Beware of snow clouds: Snowplows often create clouds as they clear the roads. These snow clouds can reduce your ability to see, so use extreme caution if you must pass.
Here are additional winter driving safety tips shared by Chief Wilder:
- Be sure your car is in excellent operating condition. Lights, brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, radiator and other parts of the car should be in perfect working order.
- Clean snow and ice from all your windows, headlights and taillights before traveling.
- Keep a vent or window slightly open. This will help the windshield remain clear of fog and also guard against possible carbon monoxide buildup should you be stopped in traffic for a long period of time or become stranded.
- Having the window slightly open will also allow you to hear emergency vehicles approaching.
- Put a greater distance than usual between you and other vehicles. This is necessary because cars need a greater stopping distance on slippery roads.
- When roads are snow-covered or icy, reduce your speed for safer handling.
- Watch for ice buildup on bridges and overpasses.
- To prevent skidding, intermittently apply light pressure to the brakes. (Anti-lock brake systems do not require pumping.)
- Don’t follow salt trucks any closer than the sign on the back of them states.
- Lights must be displayed: Any time windshield wipers are used; between sunset and sunrise; during any period of rain, snow, fog or other unfavorable atmospheric conditions – regardless of time of day; at any other time when natural light conditions don't make it possible to see objects 1,000 feet ahead clearly.