Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message
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                   Monday, March 19, 2007 - 10:42PM


Prevention role in icy road situations

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Ever since I started covering winter weather and icy road stories, I have always anticipated being asked the question "Why didn't you do something to prevent these accidents instead of just continuing to shoot video?"

When I shoot at the I-64 bridge location in downtown Charleston, as soon as the first car slides, I call 911 to advise the authorities that the bridge is getting bad (which is usually right when I arrive and set up). Most of the time it takes 10 to 20 minutes or more for the police to show up. Even if they do arrive, they will only shut the highway down if there is a disabled vehicle in the road. I've never seen them show up without a disabled vehicle, even if spinouts are happening.

I still make the call, even though it is already known by police and the DOH what the road conditions are (numerous bridges all over town get icy at the same time), and that this curve is bad whenever there is freezing precip. Only one out of every four or five winter precip events that cover the bridge in ice/snow result in spinouts/crashes (most drivers around here are cautious in snow and ice), so calling every time would result in the 'crying wolf' syndrome. Furthermore, the police don't respond to the scene unless accidents are already happening.

In other words, the last thing I want to do is watch someone get hurt or total their car. I do take action where I can, which is calling 911 when the conditions warrant. There have been instances with other bridges, when it is safe to do so, where I have parked my vehicle ahead of the danger zone and turned on my strobes to warn traffic (one of the very few times I actually use my lights - a topic for another thread). If I happen to be in a situation where I can prevent an accident, this takes priority over shooting video - even if it means going home empty-handed. Case in point, I prevented a large number of potential accidents during an ice storm in Hickory, NC (a 6-hour drive away and a 48-hour chase) by warning all cars that were approaching a very slick bridge over I-40. Most cars were oblivious and traveling at high rates of speed and slowed when they saw my flashing lights. I came home with little video from that chase, but the feeling of satisfaction from preventing almost certain accidents was worth it.

In most cases, particularly at the Charleston I-64 bridge, it would be extremely dangerous to park on the shoulder of the highway to warn traffic. It could even make the situation worse, causing accidents rather than preventing them. Calling 911 at the first sign of trouble is really the only option I have at the I-64 bridge location.

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