February 28, 2011 in City

Getting There: Winter brings out the worst in local drivers

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Last week’s carnage on ice in the Inland Northwest offered yet another reminder, as if anyone should need one, that slowing down on snow is not an option.

It’s a requirement.

Washington State Patrol Trooper Troy Briggs said he’s been working the highways for nearly 20 years, and he regularly has motorists passing him when the roads are icy.

And that’s when he’s on patrol in a marked car.

“I guess they think they are better drivers than I am,” he said.

It’s not as if this bad driving is without consequence.

Ask the hundreds of people who were caught in backups Wednesday on Interstate 90 in Spokane and Post Falls. If they were lucky, being delayed was the worst of it.

Consider the little boy who lay injured in a wrecked vehicle for a period of time while firefighters and medics tended to him, Briggs said.

Someone approaching the Division Street exit made an abrupt lane change, triggering the accident and causing a massive backup eastbound on Wednesday afternoon.

Farther east in Post Falls, a chain reaction crash blocked the westbound lanes.

A relative of mine was here on business on Wednesday. He said he hadn’t driven in snow for two years. I warned him to slow down, especially on the freeway, because sometimes the deicer below the snow can be slippery.

I also mentioned that if he slowed down, he would be passed constantly, which is a hazard as well.

He said he was driving about 35 mph and was unable to stop in time to avoid the crash as he came around the curve approaching Highway 41 at Post Falls. He wasn’t hurt, but he said he heard people crying and screaming. Lucky for him, he was able to drive away, although the vehicle may be a total loss. He said he was going the same speed as the rest of traffic, which obviously was too fast even though he was driving about half the normal speed limit.

The State Patrol in Washington responded to 76 collisions in a six-hour period on Wednesday and another 69 collisions during daylight hours on Thursday. That doesn’t include accident numbers for other agencies.

“I can’t imagine that anybody sees traffic accidents as a good thing,” Briggs said.

In one collision, a young woman came around a curve on the Hamilton Street on-ramp to westbound I-90 and lost control, slamming into a light pole, which fell into the lanes, blocking traffic. She and a passenger weren’t injured.

Driving to work last week, I was repeatedly passed by other drivers who must think they are on a NASCAR track, not an ice-glazed arterial. Often, I would catch up at the next red light.

The problem is so widespread in the Spokane region that it’s almost a joke to local officials. Or it is an embarrassment, if you think about it, since the problem repeats itself every winter.

I cannot tell you how many winter accident stories I’ve covered over the years. Say what you want about West Side drivers, but as far as I’m concerned the situation here is ridiculous.

My point is this: when it’s snowy or icy, slow down. Give other drivers room around you. Anticipate stops and turns and potential trouble well in advance. Counsel those you know who are careless or young. Getting into an accident is a guarantee of misery.

Browne’s plowing

Even though the city lifted the level 2 snow emergency on Saturday, there’s still work to do in Browne’s Addition. City plow crews will be in the neighborhood today and Tuesday, so vehicle owners are not allowed to park in alternating directions on those two days by 9 a.m.

Plowing of north-south streets is planned for today and east-west streets will be plowed Tuesday.

Vehicles must be moved away from the streets being plowed to give crews a chance to keep the narrow streets fully passable. It is considered a public safety issue.

Not moving a vehicle ahead of the plows can be costly – about $300 for the tow charge and impoundment.

Push for wider highway

Cheney city officials are making a proposed widening of state Highway 904 through Cheney the city’s top legislative priority.

Heavy traffic frequently clogs the two-lane highway between Cheney and Four Lakes. A Coalition for 904 has been formed to advocate for the widening, which could also include additional lanes from Cheney to Tyler. A center turn lane is also being advocated.


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