Benefits of road salt
School children eagerly welcome a “snow day” when a blanket of beautiful snow renders roads so unsafe or impassible that schools are closed. We’d all agree that having a snowplow cut a gash through a freshly-arrived winter wonderland destroys a natural beauty. But our modern society – and, particularly the economy that makes possible the goods and services essential to our lives and lifestyle – demands that our roadways be maintained to ensure safe and reliable driving conditions. Our response: governments create emergency response teams to clear the roads enabling ambulances, fire trucks, trucks that deliver our food and our fancy – and ourselves – where and when they are needed. The benefits of winter roadway maintenance derive from the absence of weather-created disruptions to our normal lives and the web of commerce that supports them. When a school bus goes into a ditch, a factory tells its workers to take an unscheduled (and unpaid) day off or stores close because their clerks and their customers are snowbound, society pays a huge penalty.
Enter salt. Most snowfighting agencies use salt to supplement their efforts to plow snow. Some situations – frost or freezing rain, for example, don’t need plows, but in most snowstorms salt is used to prevent or destroy the snow/ice bond to the pavement so that traffic action and/or snowplows can clear the road. Plows alone cannot achieve bare pavement.
Applying salt immediately and dramatically reduces traffic crashes. Studies in Europe and North America document our intuition that applying salt and clearing roadways of snow and ice makes the roads safer. Within a few short hours of applying salt, a study from Marquette University found an 85% reduction in traffic crashes and an 88.3% reduction in injury-causing accidents
Applying salt also keeps roads available to offer the service we expected when we paid our gas tax to support their construction and maintenance. Assured access is the dividend on the enormous investment we’ve made. And high dividends we’ve received. Study after study confirms that roadways are related directly to economic competitiveness, jobs and quality of life – but only if they are in operation. That’s where salt comes in. The Salt Institute commissioned a study to calculate the lost wages, retail sales receipts and tax revenues that are lost when an area loses use of its road system. The results are staggering – and conservative. Actual losses are probably an order of magnitude greater even without factoring-in the human cost of crash injuries and fatalities and the lives lost because emergency vehicles are unable to reach burning homes or heart attack victims.
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