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10 Things to Know about Winter Weather and Its Effects on Roads

Posted in Car Accident on January 16, 2018

Winter weather caused numerous wrecks throughout Middle Tennessee on Friday, and temperatures are expected to remain below freezing for the next several days. Inclement weather is one of the biggest contributing factors to accidents, especially winter weather. When ice and snow accumulate on roads, they become slick, causing tires to lose traction and brakes to become less effective.

Interstates 24, 40, 440, and 65—along with many other busy highways and streets in Nashville and its surrounding areas—were hit hard by the winter storm, with emergency responders being called to the scenes of dozens of accidents. Many crashes were caused by drivers simply losing control due to slick asphalt, especially while they were navigating sharp turns or while traveling on roads with elevation changes.

At Matt Hardin Law, our Nashville auto accident attorneys know how dangerous winter weather can be for drivers, even when road crews are well-prepared and have treated local roads far in advance of freezing temperatures. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual driver to stay safe, and while most Middle Tennesseans know to reduce their speed and proceed cautiously, some drivers fail to heed the warnings associated with ice and snow.

If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash that was caused by a negligent driver, we may be able to help you get compensation for your medical bills and lost wages. We have 30 years of combined experience assisting auto accident victims, and we know what it takes to win. Get in touch with us today by dialing (615) 200-1111 or completing a free online form.

Don’t Leave Home this Winter without Knowing These Facts

Law enforcement officials and emergency responders agree: the best way to stay safe during winter weather is to stay home. But they know that isn’t always possible, especially when you need to get to work, school, or other places.

Knowing a few facts about winter weather and the effects it has on roads and travel can help you make your next outing when temperatures dip below freezing safer and less likely to result in an emergency.

10 facts all drivers should know about winter weather and its effects on driving safety include:

  • Ice, sleet, and snow account for 15 percent of weather-related crashes each year.

Inclement weather plays a major role in auto accidents throughout the U.S., and winter weather is a significant contributing factor. Around 225,000 accidents are caused each year because of slick, snow-filled, and icy roads, and more than 70,000 people are injured in those crashes annually.

  • Roads are most dangerous on the first day after snowstorms.

Immediately after a snowstorm or ice storm hits an area, road crews are busy attempting to clear a path for vehicles and treat layers of ice that form on the asphalt. But they can’t always get to every road in time, especially if conditions remain hazardous overnight. That’s why it’s essential to drive slowly and carefully if you need to leave home the day after a winter weather event.

  • The average speed on highways can be reduced by up to 40 percent after snowfall.

When snow hits the ground and sticks, speeds are often significantly reduced on all roads, including highways and interstates. Light snow typically reduces average speeds by anywhere from three to 13 percent, while heavy snow reduces them by five to 40 percent. Heavy buildups of slush—a mixture of partially melted snow and ice—can reduce average speeds by 30 to 40 percent.

  • Cruise control can cause you to lose control of your vehicle when roads are slick.

Cruse control is great for long trips, as it allows you take your foot off the gas and maintain a steady speed for long stretches of time. But it can be dangerous when roads are slick and icy, as it forces your vehicle to continue at the set speed, even when road conditions are treacherous. Always turn off cruise control when you’re driving during or after a winter weather event or even an ordinary rain shower.

  • Black ice is nearly invisible and a significant contributor to winter weather accidents.

Thin layers of ice that form on asphalt are known as black ice, and they’re every driver’s worst nightmare during the winter. Black ice can be difficult if not impossible to spot from the vantage point of the driver’s seat of a vehicle, but driving over even a small patch can cause tires to instantly lose all traction and brakes to become significantly less effective at slowing or stopping the affected vehicle.

  • Knowing defensive and emergency driving behaviors can help keep you safe.

Losing control of your vehicle during winter weather can be terrifying, but just because you feel like you’ve lost control doesn’t mean you actually have. There are a few steps you can take to regain control and avoid an accident, including avoiding the use of your brakes, turning your front wheels in the same direction that you’re sliding (also referred to as turning into the slide), and avoiding panic and overcorrecting if your vehicle begins to skid or spin.

  • Bridges ice before other parts of the road—even before temperatures hit freezing.

You’ve seen the warning signs just before driving over bridges alerting drivers about their tendency to freeze first during the winter. Because bridges are exposed to cold air on all sides, they have no way of trapping heat like regular roads do. That means their surface temperatures drop faster. In addition, bridges are often constructed using steel and concrete instead of asphalt, which loses heat much more readily.

  • Treated roads aren’t always safe to drive on.

Many drivers wait to head out until snowplows and salt and brine trucks have treated local roads. And while it’s true that treated roads are often in better condition than untreated roads, that doesn’t always make them truly safe to drive on—especially if conditions worsen. Check local traffic reports and news alerts to find out if your local roads are safe in the hours and days after a winter storm hits, and be cautious even on main thoroughfares that received the most attention from road crews.

  • Dangerous and highly damaging potholes can form during and after winter storms.

Potholes represent significant risks for drivers. It’s not unheard of for vehicles to sustain major damage, including becoming totaled, after hitting deep potholes due to the massive front-end and engine damage they can cause. Potholes can quickly form after winter weather hits, as water can fill small cracks in asphalt. When temperatures dip below freezing, the water freezes and expands, weakening the asphalt. And as thousands of vehicles drive over that spot, the asphalt can crumble when the ice melts, resulting in major hazards on roadways.

  • Overconfidence—especially in 4WD or winter tire-equipped vehicles—leads to crashes.

Having a four-wheel drive vehicle or all-weather/winter tires can help you reduce your risks when roads are full of ice and snow, but they don’t make roads any less unsafe or give you a license to drive as if the current conditions are 72 degrees and sunny. Overconfidence is a major factor in winter weather crashes, as drivers may fail to reduce their speed, fail to increase following distance when they’re behind other vehicles, and fail to anticipate needing greater distances to slow down or stop.

Unfortunately, all the preventative tips in the world can’t eliminate the risk of crashes occurring, especially when roads become extremely slick and icy. That’s why it’s essential to make sure you’re prepared for an emergency if you have to leave home during or after a winter weather event.

Packing a preparedness kit filled with blankets or sleeping bags, extra clothing, a flashlight, booster cables, snacks and waters, and a cell phone charger can help you stay safe and comfortable if you become stranded in your vehicle for a prolonged time.

If you need to leave your vehicle to seek help or shelter, hang a brightly colored piece of clothing or cloth from your window or tie it around your antenna. Stay away from the road, as drivers may lose control and put you at risk of being hit.