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Stay back! Snowplow crews urge caution around trucks

Last Updated Feb 12, 2019 at 8:14 pm PDT


A snowplow driver says many drivers don't respect the flashing yellow lights of the snowplow

Drivers should stay behind plows and pass on the right

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Chad Allen’s gaze bounces between his many mirrors as he merges onto Highway 1 and lowers his plow. At 60 km an hour, in the right-hand lane, the snow caught up in his plow is hurled clean across four lanes of traffic.

The 25-year Mainroad driver carefully watches a green laser dot as it moves along the road and ditches. The light tells him how far out his back plow reaches so he doesn’t accidentally take out a sidewalk or guard rail.

On the road ahead, an inconspicuous square on the side railing of an overpass reminds him to slow down so he doesn’t surprise the drivers below with a sudden avalanche.

He takes a moment to gauge the distance between him and the plow ahead, which is hugging the median, when suddenly his eyes catch a black truck coming up on the shoulder on his left.

“You always get the guy in the SUV who thinks he can drive in the snow. You watch him go by you on the right and then he starts doing 360s in front of you,” he said before he began driving this morning, recalling one driver who passed him and spun out. “Every time he spun around in front of me he was just terrified. After he did about three 360s in front of me, he just pulled over and let me go by.”

Back on the highway, the black truck squeaks past Allen’s plow only to be confronted by the other in front. The driver ducks right, through the space between the plows and speeds up. A few seconds later, red and blue flashing lights come whizzing up from behind.

A police cruiser, lights flashing, encourages the truck to slow down and move to the left curb, but doesn’t pull the driver over.

“A lot of people just think we’re pushing snow when we’re out there, and they try to pass you,” Allen said. “They don’t realize we can’t see two-by-fours, rocks and everything that’s buried in the snow. We’re chucking that with our plow. That’s going to hit your car.”

Allan and the other truck continue down the highway like plowing oxen, driving up and down the highway multiple times to clear all the lanes and keep up with the newly-fallen snow.

He and his company are urging drivers to stay behind plows and never pass on the right. He says many people don’t respect the flashing yellow lights of a snowplow.

“I want to be behind the plow trucks where the road is nice and clear,” said road manager Mark Bradford, who helps coordinate a fleet of 42 trucks that plow provincial highways between First Avenue in Vancouver and Aldergrove.

He started work at 3 a.m. and expects to work straight through until 8 p.m. With two shifts of 12 drivers working 12 hour days, he wants to check in with all of them and inspect their work.

The expected standard is to have no more than four cm in the first lane, eight cm in the second and 12 cm in all the others. The markers on overpasses were installed two years ago.

On Monday, crews put down 80 to 90 tonnes of salt on highways within 12 hours. The salt is pulled from seawater using the sun in Mexico’s Baja California region and costs $110 a tonne.

“One storm, it will cost us close to $1 million, over four and five days,” he said, adding crews prepared the streets with salt brine before the snowfall.

Back on the roads, Allan kicks at the snow that is blocking his salt distributor while he fills up on fuel. He’ll make multiple passes of Highway 1 today, but says the snow helps pass the time.

“A 12 hour shift can be pretty long if it’s not snowing,” he said. “Otherwise you patrol, you wait, you salt. It’s not as exciting as plowing.”