Md. snow plow drivers need remedial training [Letter]

December 10, 2013

On Sunday morning, I ventured out to do my grocery shopping before the snow storm arrived. Being a native of Western New York, I favor the familiar offerings of Wegmans, so I have little difficulty justifying the drive from Baltimore to Columbia every week. As I was leaving the store, the snow had begun in Columbia, and I anticipated some slow going for the drive home. I progressed up Route 29, and the snow became heavier to the point of obscuring the lane lines. People from snowy areas would not call this heavy snow since visibility was still fair, but it was persistent and a healthy amount creating challenging driving conditions.

I had the first plow sighting of the storm shortly after getting on Interstate 70. Creeping along at 15 miles per hour was a plow truck dumping salt at a rate sufficient to bog down the broadcast spreader attachment. The plow blade was not down on this truck. Lane lines were not visible, the wheel tracks of vehicles were making deep furrows in the snow, and the type of snow and temperature was making it treacherous even for experienced winter drivers. The snow was deep enough that if an unaware driver strayed out of the wheel tracks, they were violently jerked farther to that side.

Two miles further along I-70, the snow was deeper and heavier when I passed the second plow truck. This one had the same overly-generous salt application technique in place, and the plow blade was also up. Another piece of safety equipment on the roads in challenging conditions was doing virtually nothing to make the situation safer for drivers. I passed two more plows employing the same salt-but-no-plow technique before I arrived at home.

As an individual who spent 25 years in the Lake Erie snow belt, I found this approach to snow management farcical at first. The humor did not have any sustaining value once one realized that these plow drivers had no situational awareness, were possibly given the task of exhausting a particular quota of salt and not doing their primary job, which is to clear snow from the roads to maintain safe conditions. Snowy roads provide danger to drivers through loss of traction, loss of directional control and loss of visibility.

When a driver cannot see a defined road surface, it can lead to leaving one's lane and a sudden correction — then the loss of traction and control are a foregone conclusion. The drivers of these plows had the opportunity and the equipment to make the roads safer for everyone simply by making the road surface visible. By not using the primary tool at their disposal, the plow, and misusing the secondary tool — the salt spreader which was fed too quickly to be more than a narrow salt dumper — their presence on the roads did little more than provide extra sets of tires to burnish the snow into a sheet of ice.

Given that the Baltimore-DC area is among the worst ranked nationally for both commute times and auto accidents, one would think that any process that could be utilized to make the roadways safely passable would be, especially techniques rooted in common sense.

Jeff Dening, Baltimore

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