We knew it was coming, and it has. Cold, snow, wind, ice, lake effect snow, sleet, sub-zero temperatures…they’ve all made their way to Michigan. Still, we all have places to go, work to do, school to attend, and so we drive in the cold and the snow and the ice. These conditions can prove deadly in just a matter of seconds.
More than 116,000 people are injured in such conditions every year in the United States. Michigan residents are, unfortunately, a large part of that number. In a recent listing of the “Deadliest States” for snow and ice-related traffic fatalities, Michigan ranked number 5. Last year, there were 30 fatalities between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays alone.
Fowlerville Chain-Reaction Accidents Are Lethal
Unfortunately, we have already witnessed major weather-related accidents on Michigan interstates this winter. On Thursday morning just before 10 a.m., there were several crashes on westbound I-96 midway between Ann Arbor and Lansing. The conditions were truly a perfect storm: whiteout conditions with heavy wind and snow and black ice.
The toll of getting caught on the road during this storm was extensive. A five mile stretch of I-96 was closed for 12 hours after accidents involving 53 vehicle left three people dead, 11 others injured, and many trapped in their cars. The deceased included Ann Arbor residents Homer L. Tew and Theresa O’Connor Tew, as well as semi-truck driver, Vitalii Stelmakh of Hollywood, Florida. Though originally police stated they believed winter weather conditions to be at the root of the crash, they later clarified that the cause of the accident was still under investigation. Over the course of the 12 hours, twenty-one agencies were involved in rescue, cleanup, and investigation. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office accident investigation team is still in the process of investigating the series of crashes.
While there is no way to fully protect yourself from winter driving accidents, especially if other drivers are careless on the roads, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk in winter weather.
First, make sure someone always knows when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you expect to arrive at your destination. This ensures that someone will know to look for you if you are late arriving. In the bitter cold, it doesn’t take long for a minor car accident to be life threatening due to weather exposure or possible secondary accidents. It can be hard for other drivers to see you or your vehicle, and avoiding a last minute collision can be incredibly difficult in snow and ice. Begin your trip with a phone call to someone you trust—it may save your life.
Always keep a winter emergency kit in your car, and never let your gas tank get below half-full in cold temperatures. According to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), a winter emergency car kit should include the following:
- a cell phone
- jumper cables
- extra set of dry clothing
- winter boots
- tow cable or chain
- a blanket
- road flares
- a bag of sand for traction
- non-perishable snack foods
- a shovel
- plastic whistle
- a basic toolbox
- metal or plastic cup
- 3-pound coffee can, candle stubs, and matches for melting snow for drinking water
Other items highly recommended by various state agencies include extra flashlight batteries, a battery-powered radio, water, matches and small candles, extra hats and socks, a First Aid kit, a pocket knife, required medications, a tow chain or rope, fluorescent distress flag and whistle, and a cell phone adapter for lighter.
Remember in the case of an accident or being stranded in the snow, you should stay in your vehicle and avoid overexertion via shoveling snow or pushing your car. For warmth, you should only run your vehicle’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour and only after you have ensured your tailpipe is clear of snow. Otherwise, you risk carbon monoxide being forced into your vehicle.
Many Winter Accidents Are Avoidable
Despite the many factors that are truly out of our control, we can each have an impact on roadway safety during winter weather. Winter driving accidents often occur because drivers are traveling too fast for conditions OR they are following the vehicle in front of them too closely. Normal following distance for dry pavement conditions (3-4 seconds) should be doubled or even tripled during winter weather conditions.
When on the highway or any other road, it is advisable to stay in the lane cleared most recently. Passing or changing lanes should be avoided because crossing over the built up snow or ice between lanes can result in a loss of control of the vehicle. Braking should be done gently, as braking forcefully or suddenly can cause wheels to lock up, a skid, or a full loss of control.
Pay close attention to drivers around you and ahead of you. Winter driving accidents can happen suddenly, and those ahead of you can give you some idea of the road conditions ahead. You may also be able to avoid another driver who has lost control if you see the vehicle movement early. That said, if you are about to collide with another vehicle or object, you are probably safer in most cases if you attempt to steer around the object while braking very gently. The likelihood of getting around the object is often higher than the likelihood of coming to a stop in time on an icy, snowy road.
Have You Been Injured In A Winter Driving Accident?
If yes, we don’t have to tell you about the difficulties of recovering from a serious accident or caring for an injured loved one. We know you understand far too well how hard it can be to heal or be a care-taker while ensuring your whole family is cared for physically, emotionally, and financially. The Michigan auto accident attorneys at the Offices of Lee Steinberg understand these things as well, and we have a long history of representing vulnerable clients. Our greatest satisfaction comes from winning or settling a case and knowing our clients’ can rest easier knowing their medical care, lost wages, and other expenses are taken care of. If you’ve been in a winter driving accident, call us today for your FREE consultation: 1-800-LEE-FREE.