Sharing the Road with Snowplows :: Please Be Patient with Our Plow Crews

Written by Brad Karger


When the snow comes to Marathon County, our snowplow operators are not far behind — making the roads safer for everyone.

And for that, we all (including the good folks at WSAW Channel 7) say THANK YOU!



Did you know that in Wisconsin — unlike in all other states — Federal and State highways are maintained by each County? That means:

The Marathon County Highway Department plows 874 miles of State and Federal highways in addition to plowing 600 miles of County roads!

Our dedicated Highway Department drivers have certainly had quite a powdery winter to contend with so far — and it’s not over yet . . .

Since January 1, the Highway Department has already used 57,166 gallons of fuel — about 90% of which was used for winter maintenance. In fact, our winter maintenance costs in 2019 have already amounted to more than $1.5 million.

In order to ensure your safety, the safety of other motorists, and that of our plow operators during these winter snow events, please use extra caution when sharing the road with a snowplow. Snowplows are 4 times heavier than the average car, so a collision with one can be deadly.

So far this year, winter crews in Marathon County have been involved in 3 accidents:

  1. A snowplow backed into a driver following too close behind the plow.
  2. A driver illegally passing a snowplow on the right hit the operator’s plow wing.
  3. Someone driving too fast for conditions lost control of the vehicle and ran into a Highway Department truck, which was stopped.

Statewide, since 2008, there have been 3,459 snowplow-related crashes, resulting in 571 injuries and 5 fatalities (Source).

We care about you and certainly want you to make it to your destination safely, and we also care about our snowplow drivers and want them to make it home safely to their families after their shift.

Below are a few reminders for when you find yourself sharing the road with a snowplow — so you can all stay safe on the roads.

(Feel free to download the Highway Department’s handy Snowplow Safety tips poster here.)

#1. Keep a Safe Distance.

Wisconsin law (§346.915) requires drivers to stay at least 200 feet behind snowplows engaged in snow and ice removal. Violations can result in a $175 dollar fine — or worse, can result in you finding yourself involved in a serious crash.

Snowplow operators are driving in conditions that limit their visibility. This is certainly true if it’s still snowing. But even when the snow stops, it can be difficult to see, so please make sure to give them plenty of room on the road.

Highway Commissioner James Griesbach says that driving in winter is a “community event” and we need everyone’s cooperation. Too many people are still following too close behind snowplows. He warned:

“If you can’t see the plow’s sideview mirrors, the driver can’t see you.”

Marathon County Highway Commissioner James Griesbach

Following too close can also create a hazard because plow drivers regularly need to back up and clean out intersections, curb lines, and turn lanes, shared Commissioner Griesbach. If they can’t see you to know it’s not safe to back up, that’s a problem.

Snowplow drivers are doing a dangerous but incredibly important job. They can work 12-hour shifts in hair-raising conditions. They may be distracted, cold, tired — or all of the above. Snowplowing is hard work, so please give these Marathon County workers some “breathing room” to do their jobs and use caution when you encounter them on the roads.

#2. Don’t Pass a Snowplow.

It is legal to pass a snowplow on the left, but all things considered, it’s a bad idea. Admittedly, snowplows aren’t going to go much more than 35 miles per hour to do the job right, but you’re going to be much better off following a snowplow than driving in front of one on the unplowed part of the road.

So, take your time, try to relax, and realize that the delay will likely be only a few minutes.

Take a minute to think about this:

Let’s say you arrived 10 minutes late to an appointment because you were caught behind a snowplow. That might be frustrating and create a small problem — but would it change your life?

How would that compare to being involved in an accident in which people were severely injured or killed as you tried to pass a plow? What would you tell their family members? How long might it take for you to forgive yourself?

If you must pass a plow, please be extra careful; snowplows often create a cloud of snow that can obscure your vision while trying to go by them on the left.

Never pass a snowplow on the right — You run the risk of not clearing the plows, especially if visibility is limited. Some snowplows are equipped with specialized front and side plows that can jut out 10 to 12 feet on the side.

The Marathon County Highway Department’s snowplow team “pulling the wall” on Highway 29.

#3. Don’t Think 4-Wheel Drive Will Save You.

If you operate a 4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicle, you still need to slow down and leave plenty of space between you and other vehicles — including snowplows. Slick roadways affect braking abilities on all vehicles, and snowplows may need to suddenly stop or swerve to avoid obstacles, including stranded cars. According to Wisconsin State Patrol Colonel Charles Teasdale:

“Most collisions between snowplows and other vehicles occur when the snowplow is rear-ended, usually by a driver travelling too fast for conditions.” (Source)

*  *  *

County leaders have established the goal of being the safest county in the State of Wisconsin. We pledge to do our part . . . Our snowplow drivers will be well trained, work with quality equipment, and utilize best practices.

The most important thing we ask of you in this joint effort is:

Please give our snowplow drivers plenty of room to operate —
for THEIR safety and for YOURS.


Be sure to check out County Board Supervisor Katie Rosenberg’s popular Snowplow Ride-Along article — She gives you a peek “behind the scenes” with plow driver Kody Carr during a 2017 winter snow event that sent her careening into the Highway Department’s parking lot like a stuntwoman from The Fast & the Furious.

It’s a must-read!

Brad Karger - Marathon County AdministratorBrad Karger

Marathon County Administrator

In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday.  Email Brad Karger.

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