By Maxine Reiman
Winter weather-related automobile accidents are a yearly concern for drivers across the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), winter-weather accidents account for more than 1.2 million or 21% of all crashes. On average, these accidents are responsible for roughly 5,000 deaths and more than 418,000 injuries each year. Illinois is one of the deadliest states for winter driving, averaging 27 fatalities annually.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently issued a warning for the first time since 2009, cautioning drivers in Illinois to stay off the road during an ice storm. About a half-inch of ice was expected in a short time frame, which prompted the agency to issue the statement in hopes of preventing accidents and fatalities. But these road concerns should be considered by drivers whenever there’s particularly harsh weather.
Cause for Concern
Some drivers still choose to travel during severe winter weather because they are still expected to report to work or believe they can make it through without cause for concern. Be aware of these safety concerns before getting behind the wheel during a winter storm.
Visibility is limited. Winter storms bring a variety of weather types with it including fog, heavy snowfall, snow squalls or freezing rain. Any of these can create blinding conditions on the road for drivers, which makes it difficult to see more than a few inches in front of the vehicle. When drivers can’t see well, they might not be able to see vehicles pulled over, stay in their lane, or stop before hitting an object or vehicle.
Black ice is dangerous. All ice is dangerous, but black ice is especially a concern because it blends in with the asphalt and is impossible to spot during a storm. The black ice also makes it hard for tires to grip the road, meaning drivers can quickly lose control of the steering wheel.
Not all vehicles are properly maintained. Vehicle maintenance is a significant contributing factor to weather-related accidents. Not all drivers properly maintain their vehicles throughout the year, ignoring windshield wipers and tire condition. When these two components are not cared for, visibility and traction are in jeopardy.
Snow plows can’t do their job. When too many vehicles are on the road, snow plows have a difficult time clearing the road. When they can’t adequately remove snow or treat for ice, driving conditions remain bad for an extended time period.
Insurance and Winter Storms
Auto insurance policies cover general liability, property damage and medical expenses, and most cover weather-related accidents as long as the driver wasn’t breaking the law. To be sure, drivers should check with their insurance company to confirm they have coverage for both multiple- and single-car accidents.
However, if drivers are involved in an auto accident after ignoring a FEMA-issued warning, the insurance company could deny the claim on the basis the driver was negligent.
Will FEMA-Issued Warnings Become Common?
The most recent warning issued in Illinois was the 1st in 10 years. Since FEMA’s mission is to help people before, during and after disasters, these warnings may become more common, especially in states considered high-risk for winter-weather accidents.
The best thing to do during a winter storm is stay indoors. Individuals should also prepare for storms by stocking up on essentials including food, water, blankets, flashlights and a 1st Aid Kit.
If individuals must drive during the winter storm, they should take the following precautions:
- Drive slowly and cautiously no matter what.
- Pay attention to the road ahead and make adjustments as needed.
- Always keep the wheel pointed in the direction they want to go.
- Slow down and wait for wheels to catch up when hitting a patch of ice.
- Keep headlights on at all times.
- Turn on the defrost to prevent ice buildup on the windshield.
- Pull over and wait if conditions are too poor to see what is ahead.
Drive carefully Winter is still here in North America and Europe.