People often associate dangerous winter driving with major storms and heavy snowfall. However, most big storms occur well into the winter season when roads and highways are well treated with salt and sand and maintained by snowplows. By this time, motorists have adjusted their driving habits to compensate for the reduced traction of snow-covered roads. They drive more slowly with increased following distances and avoid making hard maneuvers.
However, there is a big safety difference between a snow-covered road that’s been treated and one that hasn’t. This is precisely the difference between driving in snowfall in the middle of the winter vs driving during the first snowfall of the season. Without treatment, even a half-inch of snow becomes treacherously slick. Light snowfall on a heavily trafficked and untreated surface can melt and refreeze into black ice from the action of countless tires running over it. In addition, road crews don’t always anticipate the first snowfall of the year and don’t respond until after a snow event. This lack of treatment results in exceedingly slippery roads that can take unprepared motorists and truck drivers by surprise.
Motorists as well as commercial or owner operator truck drivers still driving in “summer mode” don’t always take notice of minor snowfall weather advisories. They drive at speeds more appropriate for the summer. These speeds continue well after the snow starts falling with many drivers failing to realize that the pavement beneath their tires is already dangerously slick. High-speed traffic packed closely together on a slick road surface then sets the stage for a multi-vehicle pileup.
Avoiding this kind of accident requires anticipating slippery conditions during the first snowfalls of the season. When the first snowflakes fall, immediately slow down and increase your following distance even if the pavement still has traction. If you wait until the traction disappears, it may be too late when you’re packed in the middle of a cluster of high-speed traffic. This condition can also occur in midwinter when there’s been a long interval without snow, in which the road treatment has long since washed away.
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