Snowplows should not dump on pedestrians


December 30, 2003|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THERE HAS been a lot to say about this month's winter weather. On Dec. 6, Linda Kisak took her dog for a walk in her neighborhood. While on her walk, a county driver began plowing the street, showering Kisak and her dog with snow thrown off the plow. Minutes later, another snowplow followed the first, plowing even closer to the sidewalk and essentially forcing her to flatten herself against a fence that lined the sidewalk.

"Fortunately, I was not injured," she said. "My dog and I were shaken up, but what if I had been out with my small child?" Afterward, she called Howard County's Bureau of Highways at the Department of Public Works to complain. She received an apology and was told that the incident would be reported to a supervisor.

"I have no idea if this was done," she said. It was, according to Bill Malone, chief of the Bureau of Highways. He recalled her complaint when I brought the issue to his attention. He said he is investigating the incident. "Ms. Kisak getting hit with snow while on the sidewalk concerns me. Snow off a plow blade can be dangerous, and no one knows that better than our drivers," he said.

"What are the responsibilities of the driver when he has a clear view of a pedestrian on the sidewalk, and what can a pedestrian do when she is hemmed in by a snowplow?" Kisak asked.

The driver's responsibility is to slow down and not to shower pedestrians with snow, Malone said.

"Our drivers take great care to avoid splashing pedestrians. If the driver sees a pedestrian, that driver will slow down," he said.

If that does not happen, the best bet is to dive out of the way. If you have a child with you, get as far as possible from snow being thrown off the plow, turn your back and hug the child to you and shield him or her. There isn't much more you can do.

I have a lot of respect for Howard County's snowplow drivers. They work hard shifts, are on call on a moment's notice, face horrible weather and overall do a good job clearing roads.

"They are all professional drivers and most have been pushing snow for years. Not that it matters, but most are also Howard County residents and have families of their own," Malone said.

Malone also explained why the drivers plow so close to the sidewalks. "Concerning snow on sidewalks, there is often so little space between the curb and sidewalk that snow will spill over onto the sidewalk no matter how slow we go," he said. "This was especially true in these last couple of storms when the snow was so heavy."

He said that there was no other choice but to clean even the small cul-de-sacs `curb to curb' because "we had to open the inlet grates to minimize flooding due to impending rain and warm temperatures."

That accounts for the second snowplow after the first to continue cleaning up the street.

And what if you're a frustrated resident who has to re-clear your sidewalks after the snowplow came through? Malone has some advice.

"There was not much we could do to avoid [showering] snow on sidewalks. The homeowner may want to leave the shoveling of the sidewalk and last 5 feet or so of the driveway until after we go through," he said.

Kay Sherrie also had complaints related to the snowfall.

"Clean the snow off your windows, folks! And the roof, and the lights!" she said, calling it one of her biggest pet peeves (mine, too). "They can't really see. I hate ... not being able to see their brake lights."

Divided on stopping

Here is another good question about school buses and the rules surrounding when to stop. Gail May e-mailed to ask about the law.

"If a school bus is stopped going the other direction on a road, such as Snowden River Parkway, what is the law on my stopping? Always stop? OK to go if a divided highway?" she asked.

If the two-lane road is truly divided with barriers or a median (as Snowden River Parkway is), you do not have to stop if you are going in the direction opposite from a loading or unloading school bus. If the road is "divided" only by a yellow line, rather than by impassable barriers or a median, then you must stop at least 25 feet away until the bus is finished loading or unloading. You may continue when the bus turns off its flashing lights.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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