PennDOT reminds motorists to prepare for winter driving

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

With snow sure to show up, PennDOT reminds drivers to slow down and give snow plows a wide berth to do their jobs.

“Winter weather is returning and drivers need to remember that they have to adjust: you simply cannot drive as fast and you have to be prepared to deal with changing conditions and perhaps delays in your travel plans,” said Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E.

About 5,400 PennDOT employees will work hard to keep Pennsylvania roads passable during winter weather. PennDOT reminds motorists that roadways such as interstates and expressways will be its primary focus and at times, the department may redirect equipment to these routes during significant winter events. During these heavier storms, motorists may encounter deeper accumulations on less-traveled routes and they should adjust their driving for those conditions.

PennDOT has budgeted more than $216 million for winter operations this year, about the same amount it spent last winter during a season that saw several record-breaking snowstorms.

As part of its normal truck replacement, PennDOT expects over the course of the winter to take delivery on 171 new trucks to replace older ones in its fleet of more than 2,100.  

Some of the improvements appearing on this year’s replacement trucks include bright red chevron patterns on the tailgates and the traditional rotating lights have been replaced by bright, flashing Light Emitting Diode lighting.

Also, to make sure that the chevron pattern is fully visible, PennDOT has moved the salt “pre-wetting” tank between the truck’s cab and body. The pre-wetting tank stores brine that is sprayed onto salt before it’s distributed on the road. Pre-wetting helps salt work faster and at lower temperatures. Also, because the tank is now larger, an operator can spend more time treating roads between refills.

“Fleet readiness is a critical part of ensuring public safety. Replacing our worn-out trucks allows us to invest in the newest technologies to better serve Pennsylvania motorists,” Biehler said. “It also allows us to spend more time clearing roads and less time fixing our trucks when they are needed most.”

Last winter, PennDOT used about 994,000 tons of salt on state roads. So far this year, about 641,000 tons of salt are available and the department will continue to take salt deliveries throughout the winter.

PennDOT has agreements with more than 700 municipalities for them to clear state roads within their jurisdictions. The department also rents approximately 400 trucks and operators to assist with snow removal as needed.

Motorists are reminded that during winter weather events, the department’s primary goal is to keep roads passable, not completely free of ice and snow. PennDOT will continue to treat roadways throughout the storm until after precipitation stops and roads are clear.

Drivers must slow down and lengthen their following distance when traveling on snowy or icy roads. Last winter, there were 370 crashes resulting in three fatalities and 215 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive driving behaviors – such as speeding or making careless lane changes –led to the crash.

When preparing for snowy travel, motorists can check road conditions on more than 2,900 miles of state roads by calling 511 or visiting  511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, average traffic speeds on urban interstates and access to more than 500 traffic cameras. The 511 site also provides easy-to-use, color-coded winter road conditions for all interstates and other routes covered in the 511 reporting network.

New this winter, PennDOT has added a 511 Twitter feed so users can subscribe to any or all of the 511 regions or choose to receive 511 alerts statewide.

Drivers are responsible for making sure their vehicles are ready for safe winter travel. Motorists are encouraged to have a mechanic they trust check their vehicle’s belts, hoses, battery and brakes. Drivers should also check that the heater and defroster work properly and that the wipers don’t streak.

Motorists should also check their tires for proper inflation and sufficient tread depth. A quick way to check tread depth is to insert a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the entire head, your tires are worn and will not be able to pull your vehicle through winter.

In addition, drivers who live in an area prone to heavy snow may want to consider using dedicated snow tires or carrying a set of tire chains. At a minimum, all-season tires should be at least mud and snow rated.

The last step to equip your vehicle for winter is to pack an emergency kit that includes items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket and small snow shovel. Motorists should tailor their kit to any specific need they or their family may have. Items such as baby supplies, extra medication, pet supplies, a spare cell phone or even children’s games could be included.

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