A Groundhog Day Wish: Safe Winter Driving for Six More Weeks

According to the famed shadow-spotting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, we are in for another six weeks of winter. This makes last week's American Highway Users Alliance press conference on the importance of safe winter driving and road maintenance all the more timely and important.
Highlighting the major snow storms which battered much of the U.S. last week - leading to a deadly multi-vehicle pileup on Indiana’s Interstate 94 and leaving scores of motorists stranded in the South - the press event provided data from a new study showing the benefits of timely ice and snow removal from the nation's roadways. 

Conducted by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, the study found that the use of road salt reduces collisions by up to 85 percent, and that before-and-after analysis on four-lane roads showed a 93 percent reduction in crashes after deicing. For jurisdictions concerned about the costs of having a robust winter maintenance plan, the study also found that deicing pays for itself a mere 25 minutes after salt is applied.

The dangers of wintry roadways are well known: more than 1,300 people are killed and another nearly 117,000 are injured each year in crashes on snowy, slushy, or icy pavement. There is also a serious economic consideration when roads become impassable due to ice and snow: an earlier study presented by the Highway Users found that a one-day snowstorm can cost a state as much as $300-$700 million in both direct and indirect costs.

These concerns are at the tops of many motorists' minds this time of year, as they are for those of us at the AAA Foundation. That's why we were very pleased that AAA's John Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, was a featured speaker at the press conference, offering valuable safe driving tips. To maximize winter road safety, AAA and the Foundation encourage motorists to: 

  • Make certain your tires are properly inflated - after all, they're the only part of your car that contacts the roadway!
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full. As we saw again in the debacle in Atlanta last week, roads can become impassable without warning, and having enough gas to stay warm and outlast an unexpected delay is essential.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface.
  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly - it takes longer to slow down on snowy, icy roads.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds.
  • Keep emergency supplies in your trunk at all times, such as water, a shovel, kitty litter, blankets, gloves and hats, etc.
For more tips on safe winter driving, check out AAA's brochure, "How to Go on Ice and Snow." For details on the Highway Users press conference and the new study presented, see the full press release here.