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Have fun in the snow, but don’t park along highways to play

Snow in Arizona’s high country is a magnet for desert dwellers looking to ski, sled, make snowmen and have snowball fights.

Too often, however, a vehicle full of people heading to play in the snow winds up parked on the shoulder of a state highway or even Interstate 17 rather than pulled safely into a designated parking area well off the road. This creates a hazard for more than just the occupants.

“It’s dangerous for the driver who stops on the highway and for other drivers who might be distracted by your vehicle. It’s also dangerous for first responders who may need access to the shoulder to help someone,” said Audra Merrick, district engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation’s North Central District. “As tempting as it can be, never stop along the highway to play in snow.”

With snow in the forecast this weekend for the Flagstaff area, ADOT reminds those heading to sled and throw snowballs that highway shoulders are for emergencies and that parking on them to play in the snow is hazardous in a number of ways:

  • Other drivers may be distracted by your vehicle.
  • Other drivers may pull over as well to play in the snow, compounding the problem.
  • Your vehicle may interfere with first responders who need to use the shoulder.
  • Plows can throw snow and ice far off highways.
  • It’s much safer to re-enter highways from on-ramps and other designated entrances.

These dangers apply along highways other than interstates, including US 180 northwest of Flagstaff, where those from lower elevations often flock after it snows. Those who park on highway shoulders to play, even in areas where traffic may seem light, are endangering themselves and others. Locations of designated snow-play areas around Flagstaff are available at flagstaffarizona.org (click the Winter Snow Play link) or by calling 1-844-256-SNOW.

Those heading to enjoy winter in Arizona’s high country should learn how to prepare for extended time in cold, snow and ice, as well as how to be ready for potentially harsh driving conditions, by visiting azdot.gov/KnowSnow.

ADOT’s suggestions of items to have in a vehicle include warm clothing and blankets, a fully charged mobile phone and charger, a flashlight with extra batteries, drinking water, healthy snacks, a first-aid kit and necessary medications. Get plenty of rest, plan your route and take frequent breaks from driving. Make sure your gas tank is at least half to three-quarters full at all times, and ensure that your wipers, window defroster, headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals work. Snow tires, chains or studded tires may be required depending on the conditions. Wherever they are traveling in Arizona, drivers need to be prepared for possible delays caused by crashes or heavy traffic. Another cause of congestion during the winter is the popularity of snow-play areas. Those playing in the snow along US 180, for example, may need 90 minutes or more to get back to Flagstaff at day’s end, especially after it snows and over holiday weekends.

“It’s very important that drivers know what they’re heading into when they come up to play in the snow,” Merrick said. “Our crews are committed to keeping the highways open and safe, but weather, road conditions and traffic can change quickly, so leave prepared.”

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