The Idaho Transportation Department wants drivers to know that this will be the first winter that the “move over law” applies to snowplows. A bill mandating that drivers move over was signed by Gov. Brad Little during the legislative session and went into effect July 1. Violators who fail to follow the law could face a $90 fine.
While a 2006 law previously required motorists to reduce their speed and move over to the other lane, if possible, for police vehicles with flashing lights, it was updated earlier this year to include any incident response vehicles with flashing lights. Snowplows are considered an incident response vehicle. In addition to making winter roads easier to drive, snowplow drivers often stop to assist drivers whose vehicles have slid off the road.
“When we’re out there, we’re happy to help,” said JR Grotjohn, maintenance foreman with the Idaho Transportation Department. “We’ll make necessary phone calls, get the police out there, do whatever we can to help the public safety.”
Officials hope the expansion will raise drivers’ awareness to always take caution around snowplows. The most important practice around plows is to give them a lot of room, Grotjohn said. Drivers should slow down well in advance, follow at a safe distance, and only pass when they are sure it is safe to do so.
“The visibility out of (snowplows) is really difficult,” Grotjohn said. “Looking in your mirrors, when snow is swirling around, it’s really easy to lose a car.”
He went on to note that, as roads begin to get slippery, the safest place to be in the winter is behind a snowplow. He recommended drivers stay far enough behind plows that they will not be affected by snow spray.
Another issue with snowplows is that they can only go 35 miles per hour. With some local highways reaching speed limits of 80 miles per hour, it is important for drivers to watch the road ahead of them in order to give themselves plenty of time to reduce speed once they see a snowplow ahead, said Idaho State Police Trooper Adam Anderson
Officials noted that accidents involving plows are not uncommon. Last January, a semi-truck collided with a snowplow from behind when the truck failed to slow down in time on Interstate 15, just south of Dubois.
According to Grotjohn, the most important thing to his team is that everyone stays safe.
“Every year you hear of (transportation) workers getting hit all over the nation,” Grotjohn said. “We want the public to be able to go home safely, and we want to go home to our families, too.”