Now that winter is fully upon us, it is important to be reminded of a few things in regards to snow removal and winter driving:
1.) During and after snow events, highway agencies, in the course of plowing, receive phone calls regarding damage to mailboxes, either from snowplows directly or from the force of snow being thrown by plows. If such damage is indeed caused by snow removal, it is not done intentionally. It is, however, an unfortunate consequence of snow removal. As far as the particular agencies replacing damaged mailboxes, it must be pointed out that there is no statutory or legal authority requiring them to do so. In fact, under Section 319 of the New York State Highway Law, mailboxes are considered highway obstructions and are only “allowed” in the right-of-way as a convenience to the owner, as it is understood they are required for mail delivery. Additionally, an opinion issued by the attorney general on Feb. 28, 1966 stated, “When the necessity of keeping the highway open conflicts with an individual’s reception of the mail, the latter must stand aside.” Highway crews do their best to avoid mailboxes, but often, visibility, oncoming traffic and heavy snow work against them. The best method to protect your mailbox during the winter months is to ensure it is properly attached to the post and to keep the mailbox assembly simple to limit impact surface area for plowed snow.
2.) Over the last few years, the practice of plowing or depositing snow from private driveways or private property onto the highway has increased significantly, especially after roadways are cleared and snow has been pushed back behind the shoulders by highway agencies. This is a dangerous practice and it is strictly prohibited under Section 1219 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law and Section 214 of the New York State Highway Law. Depositing snow or ice onto the roadway or shoulder may result in a serious accident and the person or persons responsible may be liable to a fine of $1,000 per day, per occurrence for each day the occurrence remains uncorrected. Police agencies and highway agencies will usually issue written warnings prior to issuing tickets.
3.) “Slick roads cause accident” is often a frequent newspaper headline during the winter months. The truth is that slick roads may contribute to an accident but they are not the sole cause of accidents. Accidents are generally caused by drivers who fail to drive appropriately for winter conditions. Sections 1180(a) and 1180(e) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law state, “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” Accepted safe winter driving practices include, but are not limited to, slower driving, increased braking distance, and increased vehicle separation. Following these guidelines will significantly reduce your chances of being involved in an accident on slick roads.
4.) Highway agencies spend a considerable amount of tax money to ensure the roads are cleared in an efficient manner after snow-and-ice events. Snow removal efforts do not guarantee bare or dry roads. The cost to provide these conditions would far outstrip what most taxpayers would be willing to pay. Even when bare roads can be obtained, weather conditions such as wind and rapidly dropping temperatures can alter highway conditions dramatically from one area to the next. The best course of action for anyone traveling during the winter months is to adjust your driving to meet the conditions present.
5.) Highway agencies have contingency plans in place to handle employee illness and quarantine due to COVID-19, however, if the virus becomes more widespread than current conditions, there is a significant likelihood that plowing capability will be impacted. This may result in fewer plows on the road and as a result longer routes and longer cycle times. Please be patient. Roads will be plowed, but levels of service may vary from previous years.
Please drive safely, be patient and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Timothy J. Hens, PE, Genesee County Superintendent of Highways, Genesee County Town Highway Superintendents Association
Todd M. Gadd, PE, Wyoming County Superintendent of Highways, Wyoming County Town Highway Superintendents Association
John M. Papponetti, PE, Orleans County Commissioner of Public Works, Orleans County Town Highway Superintendents Association