By now, many of us have heard about the horrible snowplow accident actor Jeremy Renner suffered on January 1 while operating a 14,333-pound PistenBully, a heavy duty snowcat, at his home in Nevada. But what exactly went wrong and how can snow operators avoid such serious injuries?

Washoe Country Sheriff Darin Balaam reported last week that while they are “still conducting interviews and processing items from the scene”  it appears to be a “tragic accident” that occurred when Renner was trying to move a vehicle, driven by a family member, that had become stuck in the snow.

“After successfully towing his vehicle from its stuck location, Mr. Renner got out of his PistenBully to speak to his family member. At this point, it was observed that the Piston Bully started to roll. In an effort to stop the rolling PistenBully, Mr. Renner attempts to get in the driver’s seat of the PistenBully. Based on our investigation, it is at this point that Mr. Renner is run over by the PistenBully,” reported Balaam. He said police are currently in possession of the snowcat and are investigating why it began to roll. PistenBully is owned by Kassbohrer, headquartered in Germany. (The company has not released a statement.)

According to a Jalopnik article by Steve DaSilva, “Given the generic late-Cold-War-Era Default Car Face of Renner’s particular PistenBully, it seems to be an older model, perhaps something that was bought new by a ski resort and sold off when it was replaced by a newer unit. Looking at the engine cover, window design, and badging, it’s most likely a PB240D — a mid-range PistenBully model from the 1980s.” The article continues, “Snowcats are enormous, treaded vehicles used to maintain ski trails, or for transportation in isolated, unplowed regions. In towing his family member’s vehicle out of the snow, Renner did seem to be using the snowcat as intended, but the question remains: Why does a movie star have an industrial piece of snow-moving equipment?”

Participants of Plowsite.com, a forum community of ice and snow management professionals, commented that “Tracked vehicles aren’t known for rolling on their own, let alone a snow covered road.” They also emphasized the difficulty of operating such heavy equipment and the expertise required. So while there seems to be an idea as to what happened, exactly why it happened is still  unclear.

Safety Tips

While the equipment professionals use might be different from snowcats, Renner’s snowplow accident is a harrowing reminder of the importance of safety when operating any heavy duty snow equipment. According to the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA), “It’s easy to get complacent when you’re accustomed to operating snow removal equipment. But accidents and injuries are only a slip away if you don’t operate this equipment safely.”

Here are some safety tips to remember from SIMA:

Safe entry & exit

  • Use handholds and steps to safely enter and exit.
  • Always maintain three points of contact (e.g., two hands, one foot) with the truck or machine when entering and exiting. Break three-point contact only when you reach the ground, cab or platform.
  • Never jump down or fall forward out of the vehicle.
  • Never enter or exit or ascend and descend moving equipment. Before exiting, ensure safety brakes are engaged.

Safe operations

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Ensure lights are always on and beacon is working if required.
  • Avoid plowing in reverse whenever possible. Consistently scan while backing slowly since sight lines and blind spots are hindered. Whenever possible use spotters to scan for pedestrians, obstacles or vehicles.
  • Stay ahead of the storm when possible by plowing before accumulations become unwieldy.
  • Drive 45 mph or slower.
  • Check that equipment is secure and properly mounted.
  • Give extra time and space when driving a vehicle with equipment. The extra weight affects its handling and stopping distance.

Cover image: Adobe Stock of snow groomer by Sergey

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