Tips for avoiding winter highway pileups

On the Road 3 min read

In December 2016, 40 vehicles crashed in a traffic pileup in Michigan on Interstate 96, resulting in the deaths of three people. The accident was due to the effects of a band of lake-effect snow.

Another accident during the same month occurred in Ohio with a 50-vehicle pileup that shut down the interstate for 14 hours.

The last thing you want during severe winter weather is to be stuck in a highway pileup, waiting hours for an interstate lane to clear. Yet, this happens during adverse weather conditions on congested highways, many times due to vehicles following too closely to stop safely.

Know the weather conditions before you leave

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports there are an average of 1.2 million police-reported crashes, 425,103 injuries and 5,137 deaths each year due to adverse weather and poor roadway conditions.

Knowing the weather conditions during the winter months is critical. Even drivers in four-wheel drive vehicles or all-wheel drive vehicles can slide on pockets of ice, especially on interstate bridges where the road surface is colder.

Fog is the one particular weather condition that resulted in 155% more crashes than seen during clear weather, according to the same AAA report. Drivers may slow down in a snow storm, but they may not consider the dangers lurking from poor visibility that thick fog can present. Seven of the ten deadliest highway pileups were caused by fog. In the United States, more than 108,000 crashes were due to fog from 2010 to 2014 alone.

Roadway surface conditions also play a part in interstate pileups and crashes. Between 2010 and 2014, the nation experienced more than 734,000 crashes, 209,000 injuries and 2,474 deaths due to ice on the roads.

The Federal Highway Administration states that adverse weather and unsafe roadway surface conditions can impair drivers’ capabilities, affect vehicle traction and maneuverability, impact roadway infrastructure and increase crash risk. Factors during the winter such as high wind speed, precipitation, fog and pavement conditions can increase your risk of an accident.

During the winter, try to keep a close eye on traffic and weather reports, not only for recent accidents, but also to leave yourself plenty of time to take an alternate route.

How to avoid a winter traffic pileup

There are a few things you can do to avoid getting stuck in a winter traffic pileup on the interstate.

During extreme weather, consider using alternate routes to and from your destination. You may want to map these out during a clear day so you have them ready to go when you need them. You will want to try to find a few primary roads as well as secondary roads to travel on if you need to avoid the interstate, where many pileups occur due to the combination of a higher speed and poor weather conditions. However, keep in mind that secondary roads may not be as clear as primary roads during and immediately after a snow storm.

Take your time and drive slowly during winter weather. Your vehicle may perform well during the summer but lose traction easily in snow and ice. Drive at a slow but consistent speed and avoid jamming on the breaks or turning suddenly, as these actions can trigger accidents if you are unlucky. If you are aware of a potential snow storm, you will want to leave plenty of time to arrive at your destination safely.

Adverse weather is the perfect time to practice defensive driving. Pay attention to what is happening around you and anticipate accidents and other situations. You will want to leave extra distance between you and the car in front of you. Concentrate on driving and watching other drivers instead of texting or talking on the phone.

Go slow or stay home

Winter weather can be brutal, and traffic pileups are scary. As you watch the weather reports, consider whether or not you can make it to your destination safely while driving slowly on an alternate route. If you cannot, you may want to consider just staying home, although for some employees, this is not an option. Use your best judgment before heading out and know the conditions of the roads.

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