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When the snow falls, plow driver is king of the road

Tuesday - 3/4/2014, 8:09am  ET

snow plow (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Snowplow drivers in Prince George's County work 12-hour shifts. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. -- It's tough work, but somebody has to do it. When the snow falls and many people gear up for a snow day, county and state workers pack their bags and gas up their snow plows, because there's a lot of work ahead.

"You get a little sore in the back and you find the aches you haven't had in a while," says Dave Howard, who's usually a construction standards inspector for Prince George's County.

But when the snow falls, Howard becomes a snowplow driver.

He says this year has been rough.

"It's been taxing. Everybody, I think, is pretty much done with it. They're ready for it to be over."

While on duty, Howard says most people are supportive.

"A lot of them are nice and friendly. They'll wave and appreciate it."

But there are others "that don't appreciate it. They feel like you're in their way."

Howard has worked for the county for 30 years. He has even brought his son on board to drive a plow during the snow. But he says the job can be tough on his wife.

"When we're gone, my wife is at home by herself," he says.

Drivers work 12-hour shifts, and on Monday his job was to keep many of the roads in the Capitol Heights area clear enough for emergency personnel to get through during the storm.

The goal is to "try to get [the roads] clear as quick as possible," Howard says.

There is a priority list when it comes to which roads get cleared first. Primary roads top that list, and residential streets are lower down.

"The residential areas, we do try to get to them, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to open a residential if you haven't had your primaries open up yet," Howard says.

When plowing, he says, there is a lot to consider and you have to be alert.

"What you don't see can hurt you indeed because you have steel plates. You've got utilities, manhole covers that are raised up."

When you hit one of those hazards, Howard says you can do a lot of damage not only to them, but also to the plow.

He says those hazards are a good reason for drivers not to follow plows too closely.

"If I was to hit a manhole structure right now, it will actually kick my truck to the left really fast, and I can't do anything to stop it," Howard says.

As the snow falls, you might not see plow drivers dropping a lot of salt on the roads.

"If we just throw salt constantly, we'll just use up all our resources and then we'll be really low."

So what advice does a veteran snow driver have for other drivers out there? When it comes to small piles of snow in the road, "if you don't know what's under there, just avoid it."

Watch the video to see what the drive is like from a snowplow driver's perspective:

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