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                   Monday, October 20, 2008 - 6:33AM

Icy roads already claiming lives this winter

By DAN ROBINSON
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Just a quick glance at Google news this morning reveals at least 7 fatalities from icy roads/bridges in the past week alone in Montana, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. And these from the first light dustings of snow of the season, not major storms. If a tornado outbreak had produced this level of casualties in the same region, it would have been national news. Yet these stories repeat themselves day after day throughout the winter without being noticed.

ARTICLE: Four die on Wyoming icy roads

ARTICLE: Authorities identify victim in I-15 crash

ARTICLE: Woman dies in icy bridge crash

ARTICLE: Passenger dies in icy bridge crash

The argument invariably comes up that these are not to be classified as weather-related incidents, but merely traffic incidents to be lumped together with the rest of the national highway accident statistics along with drunk drivers, red-light runners and speeders. I have always disagreed with that. An icy road often causes an accident without any abnormal control inputs from the driver and absent from any other factors. In other words, someone driving normally can be involved in an accident solely due to ice on the road. Many icy road crashes happen due to the driver being taken by surpise by a rapid deterioration of road conditions, such as at a bridge where the road can go from clear to ice instantly without warning. When a motorist dies from driving into a flooded road, it is classified as a flooding death - even though the driver made a conscious decision to enter the water. A driver killed by a tornado tossing their car is classified as a tornado death. I think that makes a strong case for icy road casualties to be classified and treated as weather-related rather than traffic-related.

Lack of awareness of, and respect for, conditions does play a role in many icy road crashes, but I don't believe drivers are entirely to blame. I do not think there is enough emphasis on this hazard in our day-to-day lives to make enough of an impression on drivers to result in a change of behavior. Especially when compared to the publicity that lightning, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes receive. One only has to watch interstate traffic on a snowy morning to see that virtually no one is driving differently because of the conditions.

I commonly hear people tell me regarding tornadoes that they would never in a million years actually chase one or let one come within 50 miles of them. Yet these same people will encounter a far greater hazard many times during the course of the winter without thinking about it.

I look at those articles above - and know that sadly, they are only the beginning of what we will be seeing this winter. I wonder if icy roads will ever get the attention that other weather hazards get, and if they do, if the heightened awareness will result in a reduction of these casualties that we see with every winter precip event.

I think I understand what you are saying, a Tornado is an extreme weather event with local danger. Icy roads is again an extreme weather event with a much larger danger to the population of a larger area. Is that along the right lines ?
- Posted by Mick from United Kingdom
Yes - it affects many more people than a tornado does, for instance. Very few people will encounter a tornado in their lifetimes, but nearly everyone will encounter icy roads.
- Posted by Dan R.

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