ALBANY - New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald recently provided tips for driving safely during winter weather and offered suggestions for preparedness. The Commissioner also reminded motorists to call 511 or visit 511ny.org for the latest driving conditions.
"It's essential for motorists to know how to deal with road conditions during winter storms," Commissioner McDonald said. "In addition to checking our Web site for driving tips and updated road condition information, motorists should prepare themselves and their vehicles for unexpected travel impediments."
NYSDOT provides a travel advisory system that features real-time travel reports and can be accessed by phone at 511 or online at www.511ny.org. The Web site features a color-coded map indicating which state roads are snow covered, ice covered, wet, dry or closed to help travelers determine if travel is advisable. The system provides real-time snow and ice conditions for interstates and other heavily traveled roads, as reported by snowplow operators.
In so doing, however, drivers must be aware that texting while driving is illegal under a new law recently signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and that distracted driving is particularly hazardous during snow and ice conditions.
The Department's Web site - www.dot.ny.gov/programs/driver-safety - features an interactive safe driving Web experience that includes tips for safe driving in winter weather conditions, a video demonstrating the proper method for steering out of a skid, a winter driving quiz and a video that allows visitors to experience the conditions snowplow operators face each winter.
Some of the most important tips for safe winter driving include:
Never follow a snowplow too closely or attempt to pass one. Remember that the highway ahead of the plow is usually snow-covered;
Adjust speed for road conditions and maintain a safe distance from other vehicles;
Schedule extra time for winter travel and be patient during ice and snow removal operations;
Assume that bridge surfaces are slippery, as they freeze more quickly than road surfaces;
Watch for black ice, which can be difficult to see but makes conditions slippery when pavement temperatures are below freezing;
Have a cell phone handy, if possible, but do not text while driving; distracted driving is illegal and becomes even more dangerous during storm events;
Never venture from your vehicle if snowbound;
Equip your car with emergency supplies including sand, shovel, flares, booster cables, rope, ice scraper, portable radio, flashlight, blankets and extra warm clothes;
Inform a responsible person of your destination, intended route, and estimated time of arrival; and
Keep calm and do not panic in case of a vehicle breakdown, accident, or if you become snowbound.
NYSDOT strives to have roads cleared of snow and ice within two hours after a storm ends. Approximately 3,300 trained snowplow operators and 380 supervisors are responsible for snow and ice control on nearly 35,850 lane miles of state roadway. A fleet of more than 1,420 snowplows, 325 bucket loaders, which are used for loading salt into snowplows, and 50 snow blowers are used by the department for routine winter operations. Approximately 826,000 tons of salt along with a variety of other anti-icing chemicals are used each season, depending on weather severity, throughout the winter.
Snowplows travel at about 35 miles per hour - which in many cases is lower than the posted speed limit - in order to ensure that salt being dispersed stays in the driving lanes and does not scatter off the roadways. Oftentimes on interstate highways, snowplows will operate side by side to clear several lanes at one time.
Motorists and pedestrians should never assume a snowplow driver can see them. Snowplow drivers have limited sight distances, with the wing blades of the vehicle obscuring their side views. The size and weight of snowplows make it very difficult to maneuver and stop quickly. Snow blowing from behind the plow can severely reduce visibility or cause "whiteout" conditions. Motorists should not attempt to pass snowplows or follow too closely. The safest place for motorists is well behind the snowplows where the roadway is clear and salted.
On occasion, winter storms can cause power outages at intersections, causing traffic signals to fail. At intersections where traffic control signals are not working, state vehicle and traffic law directs motorists to proceed as they would at a stop sign, unless otherwise directed by a police officer on site.
NYSDOT participates in Clear Roads, a winter highway maintenance research organization comprised of 23 states that work collaboratively to develop and evaluate the newest winter operations technologies. Clear Roads also focuses on raising awareness for winter driving safety, promoting the initiative that if you see Ice and Snow, Take It Slow.