Bone-chilling temperatures, snow, and freezing rain across much of the U.S. not only put a crimp on holiday shopping, but led to hundreds of serious and deadly crashes over the weekend.
Maryland State Police said they responded to more than 330 crashes across the state. In Baltimore, a tanker carrying gasoline skidded off a highway and exploded, killing two people and causing a nearly 70-vehicle pile-up on Interstate 95. Nearly two dozen people were treated for injuries as a result of the crash.
As of Saturday morning, Indiana State Police said they responded to 380 property-damage crashes, more than 60 injury crashes and four fatal crashes since 10 p.m. Friday evening. Roads were so slick that authorities had to use a ladder to move motorists stranded on an overpass. Many travelers were stranded for 10 hours.
In North Carolina, police and emergency crews reported more than 100 crashes in Raleigh and Charlotte as drizzle combined with temperatures below freezing created dangerous icy patches. Two people died in separate incidents in Charlotte after their vehicles skidded off icy roads.
The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office responded to over 100 crashes as a result of the weekend snowfall.
In Ohio, a Columbus woman died when her car skidded off a slick road, authorities said.
In Nebraska, one person was killed when his car slid off an icy road north of Omaha, hit a tree and burst into flames.
The Missouri Highway Patrol reported that roadways glazed with ice followed by subzero temperatures contributed to more than 1,500 crashes nationwide between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Seven people were killed, including a 13-year-old girl after a tractor-trailer lost control on an icy Interstate 44.
This is only the beginning of winter. Icy road conditions this past weekend reminds us all that it is imperative to take the time now to prepare for safe driving this winter season. Here are some common sense tips before you go:
- Make sure your vehicle is properly prepared. Have you checked your battery and brakes? Have you checked the tire thread and tire pressure? Proper tire pressure insures the best available traction. Are your engine coolant and windshield washer fluid at full? Are your wiper blades in good shape?
- Always, carry an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. This includes gloves, hat, warm clothing, icy scraper and snow brush, flashlight with fresh batteries, flares, blankets, snow shovel, windshield wiper solvent, road salt or kitty litter to give you vehicle some traction, jumper cables, first aid kit, drinking water, and a fully charged cell phone and car charger.
- Remove all snow and ice from windows, headlights, taillights, roof, and hood of car before you start the car.
- Let others know your travel plans – where you are going and what route you will be taking.
- Leave early, give yourself plenty of extra driving time to get to your destination.
- Check weather and road reports before you go. If the storm is as bad as it sounds, you may wish to cancel plans or delay them.
- Don’t drink and drive.
Wintry weather – snow, ice sleet, freezing rain – creates a challenge even for seasoned drivers. Here is a little refresher once you get on the roads. A little preparation and planning can go a long way in preventing an accident.
- Drive defensively. Be aware of your surroundings. Decrease your speed, maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you, and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. Be careful not to drive in another vehicle’s blind spot.
- Don’t be fooled by four-wheel drive. While it is helpful to get out of snow from a stationary position, it does not help you stop safely on ice or snow.
- Always be alert to the possibility of “black ice” when temperatures are near or below freezing.
- Use extra caution when going over bridges and overpasses which freeze first.
- Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
- Remember that posted speed limits are meant for ideal conditions. Adjust your speed according to traffic, weather conditions, road conditions, and visibility.
- Accelerate slowly to avoid loss of traction and control. Turn slowly, with caution, to avoid sliding.
- Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
- Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
- Do not use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
- Inexperienced drivers should practice winter driving techniques, in a snowy, open parking lot, to become familiar with how a car handles in certain situations and conditions.
- Avoid distractions of any kind.
As the winter storm season begins, Lawsuit Financial urges all motorists to do their part to ensure their own safety and the safety of others. If you must travel in inclement weather, be vigilant about safety, drive responsibly and don’t forget to buckle up. If you feel like you need to brush up on your winter driving skills, find an empty, snowy parking lot and practice.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.