Each winter drivers from Maine to Texas are reminded just how dependent we are on our cars and what happens when snow and ice get in the way. More than 116,000 Americans are injured and over 1,300 are killed on snowy, slushy or icy pavement every winter.
Snowfighters, tasked with the job of keeping travelers safe, know that road salt is the most effective way to treat road surfaces. A Marquette University study examined highway accidents in snow and found that road salt reduced crashes by 88 percent while injuries and accident costs were reduced by 85 percent.
The safety impacts of using deicing salt before and after a snow event on four-lane highways reduced accidents by 93 percent, according to a University of Waterloo study. Untreated roads also carry a significant economic cost. A one-day major snowstorm can cause a state $300-$700 million in direct and indirect costs, according to a Global Insight study.
“Lost wages of hourly workers account for about two-thirds of the direct economic impact of a major snowstorm, says James Gillula, the principal researcher of the study. “Among all workers, hourly wage workers can suffer the most painful economic losses.”
This winter season has been especially harsh even in parts of the country not used to snow or ice. Residents of Atlanta experienced what happens without road salt to keep their streets clear. Children had to spend the night at school sleeping on gym mats when buses could not safely get them home. Workers became stranded in their cars for hours as traffic was completely gridlocked due to ice and accidents. Many vehicles were simply left abandoned. News reports were filled with images of people sleeping on the floors of area grocery stores.
Across the country news accounts are warning of limited road salt supplies and no one wants a repeat of what happened in Atlanta. “There isn’t a salt shortage,” says Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute. “Salt is in abundant supply, however, some of the country is experiencing a more severe winter than normal leaving some municipalities and departments of transportation with low inventories. While many agencies try to have enough salt on hand in the fall to get them through an entire winter, recent weather is forcing many to order again mid-season which is not an ideal situation as there is a lead time for delivery.”
Today, snowfighters across the country are using advanced technology that guarantees the right amount of salt at the right time, ensuring highway safety, protecting commerce and minimizing any possible harm to the environment. In some areas snowplows and even roadways are fitted with GPS systems and sensors to keep track of road conditions and temperatures, and fine tune the amount of salt and type of salt they need to apply. A recent comprehensive study by environmental researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Environment Canada, found that best practices in salt management deliver significantly improved environmental results.
The Salt Institute promotes the latest environmentally-friendly application technologies and management practices with its “Safe and Sustainable Snowfighting” program and award. The institute also partners with other organizations like the Ontario Good Roads Association and the American Public Works Association to provide training and information to snowfighters across the United States and Canada.