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Winter Weather Can Increase Risk of Car Accidents

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Winter weather can increase safety risks on Ohio’s highways. In January 2013, weather.com reported that blowing snow and slick roadways set off multiple highway pileups, including one outside Cincinnati that involved at least 86 vehicles and left a 12-year-old girl dead.

According to a 2008 study, 24 percent of all crashes occur during adverse weather conditions, including ice, snow, and rain. Scientists also reported that most drivers don’t make adjustments to account for these conditions, and reminded drivers to slow down and increase distance between cars to reduce the likelihood of an accident.

How Winter Weather Affects Driving Conditions

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that weather affects driving conditions in the following ways:

• Impaired visibility
• Tire traction
• Vehicle stability and maneuverability
• Pavement friction
• Traffic flow
• Lane obstruction
• Infrastructure damage
• Disrupting traffic signals

Another study published in 2005 found that snow days resulted in more nonfatal-injury crashes, and in property-damage-only crashes. The first snowy day of the year was more dangerous than other snow days, particularly for elderly drivers. The researchers added that poor weather-related driving conditions are associated with 7,000 fatalities and 800,000 injuries, and more than 1.5 million crashes annually in the United States.

Tips to Help Reduce the Risk of Accidents

To help reduce the number of accidents related to winter weather, try the following tips:

• Slow down.
• Leave more room between cars so you have room to stop. Allow three times more space than usual between you and the car ahead of you.
• If you have to brake, brake gently to avoid skidding.
• Drive with your lights on.
• Keep your lights and windshield clean.
• Avoid using the cruise control on icy or snow-covered roads.
• Watch out for bridges and overpasses, as they tend to be more likely to freeze sooner than the rest of the road.
• Don’t overestimate the capabilities of a four-wheel-drive vehicle. They can still slip on ice.
• Don’t pass snowplows and sanding trucks as they have limited visibility, and road conditions are usually worse in front of them.

Mistakes Drivers Make

Though drivers may realize they need to take certain precautions when the weather is bad, sometimes they make key mistakes that can lead to car crashes. These include:

• Failing to react to trouble soon enough. Drivers often underestimate the distance they will need to stop.
• Failing to keep the car in working condition. Brakes, starters, alternators, tires, and other parts of the car need regular maintenance to be in good working order. This is especially important in the winter. Make sure tires are properly inflated.
• Driving when tired. Fatigued driving is a problem at any time, but can be particularly dangerous in bad weather. Winter driving is also more tiring than regular driving, so drivers need to be aware that they may need more breaks.
• Driving too fast. Driving too fast can result in loss of traction and loss of control in winter weather.
• Failing to exercise caution at intersections. Risks are higher that cars will skid or slide through intersections during bad weather, so extra caution is needed here.