DOT urges safety and patience during snow removal operations

Days before the winter solstice, the city of Fairbanks has already experienced over 20 inches of snowfall this year. Residents of the city may be familiar with the long caravans of snow removal vehicles employed by the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) following periods of heavy snowfall. Plows, spreaders, graters, and other heavy machinery each perform a specific function as part of protocols designed to safely and efficiently clear the roads.

Drivers are getting caught in the middle of snow removal caravans, and according to the Department of Transportation, this presents a hazard for all parties involved. (Department Of Transportation)

However, operators at the DOT, who are responsible for using snow removal machinery, say that some drivers aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

“They always say safety is 200%. It’s 100% the operator, and 100% the public driving,” said Will Chase, heavy equipment operator with the DOT.

Drivers getting caught in the middle of one of these caravans are a frequent issue that operators have to deal with. According to Chase, besides not being able to get out of the caravan, this situation presents a host of dangers to both the driver and the operator. “The truck [can go] off the road trying to protect you,” said Chase, providing an example of one such situation.

“Slow[ing] down is a big thing,” said Chase, when asked about safety protocols that drivers can follow when snow removal vehicles are in operations. “All these lights are set up for caution to let you know we’re working in that area,” he said, pointing to a series of blinking lights on a truck behind him.

During sanding operations, a bright headlight and a reflective yellow sign reading “KEEP BACK 200FT” advises drivers that abrasives are being laid down. The distance warning, about 15-20 cars according to Chase, is so that small abrasives have time to settle and are not flung into drivers’ windshields.

A full list of safety protocols during snow removal is available from the DOT here.

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