While we have had a relatively easy winter weather-wise, don’t let down your guard. First, remember that driving automobiles is the most dangerous activity many of us undertake. Luckily, we can moderate that danger since we have some control over driving outcomes.
There are more deaths from weather-related vehicle accidents than from disastrous weather itself (tornadoes, hurricanes or floods). Respect Mother Nature, as there is plenty of winter left.
And the hazardous driving weather includes not only snow and ice, but rain, fog, dust and darkness. In a period from late fall to early spring, drivers are likely to encounter all of those conditions — sometimes more than one at a time.
In fact, rain, along with the resultant wet pavement and low visibility, is the leader in weather-related automobile crashes, followed by snow/ice and fog. It makes sense that the rain is blamed for the highest number of weather-induced traffic deaths since it is a factor all year.
The ten-year average for these traffic deaths is 5376 annually, according to information reported by Chris Dolce, writing for the Weather Channel. This places weather-related vehicle accident deaths in the United States in a substantially higher position than deaths from large-scale weather disasters, including tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding. In contrast, the average combined number of annual deaths from flooding, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes and heat is 379.
So, paying attention to the weather while driving and making the necessary adjustments to account for slippery road surfaces and compromised visibility is paramount to safety. That means lowering speed, increasing clearances from other vehicles and having proper equipment (tires, brakes and lighting). Many drivers continue to drive at the posted limit until the slick road causes a spin, or the low visibility prohibits stopping in time to avoid a crash. The adjustments in speed and vigilance must be made before the trouble occurs.
Increased vigilance is mandatory with rapidly changing weather conditions, which are particularly hazardous to drivers. Heavy snow, dense fog, or torrential rain can change visibility from good to poor in an instant.
Sudden, short-term, blizzard-like snowfalls are notorious for causing multi-vehicle crashes on freeways each winter. Such instant and intense snowfall drops visibility quickly while slickening roads and catching drivers off-guard.
Of course, the dreaded “black ice” can rear its “head” anytime the temperature is below freezing. It’s named as such because roads so hampered look the same as if the road surface is simply wet (or black) when it is actually coated with a thin layer of clear ice. Freezing drizzle can create black ice, especially on bridges. Black ice conditions are as slick as a road can get — watching your outside temperature readout (if your vehicle is so-equipped) is the best tool for predicting the presence of black ice — if it’s 33 degrees or lower, expect “black” areas to be super slick.
Again, the key to winter driving safety is vigilance and reduced speed. Learn to “read” the weather and road conditions — keep a relaxed, loose grip on the steering wheel — use gentle input to steering, acceleration and braking — create room around your vehicle — stay safe!
In my column appearing around Thanksgiving, I referenced a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice citing potential liability and resulting insurance implications when an operating system for an autonomous vehicle is hacked. That notion prompted some reader questions, so here is a link to their original research: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2654.html.
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.