How to Drive Around Snow Plows in BC

BC Snow Plow

Pop quiz!

You’re driving a two-lane highway after a fresh dumping of snow. You spot the flashing lights of a snow plow up ahead in the left lane. You…

a) Speed up to get ready to pass in the right lane;

b) Maintain speed until you settle in close behind the plow;

c) Flash your high beams until the plow truck pulls over to let you pass;

d) Keep your distance until the plow truck pulls over to allow you to pass.

OK, so this was kind of a rhetorical question. But we’ve placed the answer at the bottom of this post for anyone who needs to confirm.

Snow plow operators are on the roads at all hours in order to make winter driving safer. Clearing snow and laying down deicers and winter abrasives requires the operators to reduce their speed. In order to operate safely, snow plow operators need fellow drivers to be extra cautious around them.

“Please practise patience,” says Mainroad Lower Mainland Contracting general manager Darren Ell.

“Don’t be in a big hurry, because these guys are trying to provide a service to the travelling public. We’re not out there to hinder the flow of traffic. We’re out there trying to keep people safe.”

In the name of “Mr. Plows” everywhere (how could Homer Simpson not get a shout-out in this post?), we’ve put together a list of “do’s and don’ts” to keep in mind next time you’re driving near a snow plow.

Do…

… Give snow plows plenty of space – about 10 car lengths. Salt and winter abrasives, as well as rocks and other debris in the snow, can fly – hitting nearby vehicles and decreasing visibility. Tailgating any vehicle puts you at risk of a collision; tailgating a piece of heavy equipment armed with plows only ups the consequences.

Don’t…

… Pass snow plows. It’s not safe. The plow could be equipped with a wing blade on its left or right side, which can be obstructed by the snow it’s throwing. The plow also may be the first of a series of two to four more plows, staggered diagonally across the road to clear all lanes simultaneously. This practice is called Echelon Plowing, and would require the unwise driver to make multiple unsafe passes.

Do…

… Pull as far over to the right as is safe when you see a snow plow approaching from the opposite direction along an undivided highway. That way, you will be clear of any salt or sand.

Don’t…

… Assume the snow plow operator can see you, especially if you’re driving too close and visibility is poor (which it often is in snowstorms). Your best defense is to keep your distance.

Do…

… Give the snow plow operator a wave when they pull over to let you pass. They’re doing the job for you!

Do you have any tips or questions about driving near snow plows? Let us have it in the comments section below.

 

Quiz Answer: d) Keep your distance until the plow truck pulls over to allow you to pass. (But you knew that, right?)

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20 Responses to How to Drive Around Snow Plows in BC

  1. Jarome on September 19, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    It always amazes me when people pass a snowplow doing the speed limit to drive on an unplowed road. Its winter time in BC.. why not give yourself an extra 10 and drive on a freshly plowed road?

  2. robt johnson on December 31, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    the motor vehicle act calls fro lighting on the outside edges of vehicles why is there amber colored warning lamp mounted aprox 1 foot above the RH snow wing to advise people that the wing is down and creating an obstuction in the cloud of snow

    • tranbceditor on January 3, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      Hi Robert and thanks for your comment. We are trying to understand your question and need to clarify – are you saying there should be a warning light above the wing blade as a visual? It is illegal to pass a plow on the right.

  3. Dan on February 12, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Can someone please confirm if passing a snow plow with flashing lights is illegal, or just inconsiderate and dangerous.

    I keep reading tweets from Drive BC asking motorists not to pass snow plows but no mention if this is BC Motor Vehicle Law or just a request.

    Please confirm.

    • tranbceditor on February 15, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Hello Dan,

      Yes, passing a snow plow is a violation of the BC MVA. Under the act, a vehicle which passes a plow on a stretch of highway which is signed with sign R-022-2Ta (Do not pass snowplows), is subject to a fine for disobeying a traffic control device. Please give snow plow operators the space they need to clear the highway. They have a very important job to do keeping our highways safe and will pull over and let traffic pass as soon as they are able. Hope that this helps!

  4. Deanna on December 26, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    What is the standard for plows passing vehicles? We were just ran off the highway coming into Salmon Arm. The plow came up behind us, repeatedly flashing its high beams at us (and yes we were driving slowly but the snow was heavy coming down and conditions were terrible). We were forced onto the shoulder as he didn’t slow down as he approached us. He passed us – in our lane because we were forced off th road and he kept his blade down. Our vehicle was completely covered with heavy compact snow. The entire left side of the vehicle was covered to where we couldn’t see out our windows. Am I missing something? I’m not exactly sure how we could have done anything differently and we are lucky he didn’t kill us. needless to say it was pretty terrifying. After that he then tailgated the much smaller vehicle in front of us for 15 minutes until he too was forced off the road. I’ve have photos of my vehicle covered in the snow if anyone at MoTi would like them

    • tranbceditor on January 11, 2017 at 1:54 pm

      Hello Deanna,

      Our area manager is looking into this further and would like to contact you directly to collect more information about the date, time and location where this occurred. Are you okay with us sharing the email address you provided?

      • Deanna on January 12, 2017 at 11:38 pm

        Yes you can share the email address. Thank you

        • tranbceditor on January 13, 2017 at 9:45 am

          Thank you. You should hear from someone shortly for more information. šŸ™‚

      • Tammy on February 8, 2017 at 9:30 pm

        Hi, I’m curious to your thoughts for Deanna’s experience as I had a similar experience on Island Highway near Nanaimo this past weekend. My boyfriend was driving in the right lane when we heard a rumbling noise and before we knew it, a snow plow passed us at a high speed on the left hand lane and in the process, splashed snow onto our vehicle covering the whole left side and all the windows. I also felt the car move slightly to the right as the momentum of the snow hit our car. It was quite scary and I’m thankful my boyfriend remained calm during the whole ordeal. We had to pull off to the right when it was safe to clear our windows before continuing on our way. We were too shocked at the time and wanted to clear our windows so we could drive safely again so did not take photos. It happened around 4:20pm on Sunday February 5th, 2017 on Island Highway near Ware Road. We were leaving Nanaimo and heading in the direction of Lantzville. Thanks.

        • tranbceditor on February 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm

          Hi Tammy,

          Our area manager will be notifying Emcon, our maintenance contractor in the area about your experience and they will be following up with you directly about this. Hope that this helps!

          • Tammy on February 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm

            Thanks so very much.

      • Julie on January 9, 2019 at 5:41 am

        This same thing happened to me as well not once but twice in the past two weeks. I travel to and from work between whistler and Squamish on hwy 99. I lost control of my car both times with my 9 year old in the back.i was driving the speed limit, the plow flew past me at least 30k faster. Iā€™m terrified to drive to work when it snows because of this.

        • tranbceditor on January 10, 2019 at 1:46 pm

          Hi Julie,

          We have shared your concern with the local area manager who will be contacting you and the MC directly to follow up. Thanks for letting us know.

  5. Bill Manners on December 11, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    I would never pass a working snow plow. Many years ago, driving back from Tofino, I got to the top of Sutton Pass and snow. Slick, greasy stuff. I carefully backed up about a quarter mile to a pull out. Within 25 minutes a snow plow came by. I followed a discrete distance all the way into Port Alberni. THANKS.

  6. Mike Hamm on January 27, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    it should also be noted that the trucks with the blades up and no flashing lights could still be sanding,even though the lights on the sanders should be on when sanding, I have been caught twice this winter,

  7. Brendan McCullough on January 27, 2015 at 11:18 am

    There are situations where snowplow operators do wish motorists to pass. These will generally occur when there is sufficient space to do so. Pulling off the road to let vehicles by can leave a wall of snow which nobody wants. As the article says, please be patient but it is not true that you should never pass a plow.

    • tranbceditor on January 27, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Brendan. We consulted Darren from Mainroad Contracting (he’s featured in the post) about your point. There are instances on a multi-lane highway where the plow is in the far right slow lane, and there may be room to pass safely in the far left fast lane. The level of safety depends on other factors, such as visibility. And if echelon plowing is happening, the driver will quickly come upon the lead plow in the far left lane and be unable to pass. In the end, it’s still best to keep a safe distance behind snow plows, and especially important never to pass on the right of a snow plow.

      We’re not sure what you mean when you refer to “a wall of snow” being created when the plow pulls over to allow others to pass. The snow is usually pushed to the right, so when the truck pulls over to the right then the windrow, or snow pack, will be on the far right of the plow, possibly on the shoulder.

    • Pat on January 28, 2015 at 7:30 am

      They are rare but there are plow trucks equipped with a left hand wing.

      • tranbceditor on February 3, 2015 at 10:13 am

        You’re right, Pat. A ministry staff member just pointed that out to us, too. I edited our comment above to read “usually” rather than “always.” Thanks for the comment.

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