Staying Safe on Winter Roads

winterThe Holiday Season is a perfect time to enjoy the company of family and friends. Celebrating the season and exchanging gifts also means a lot of travel and for most people that means driving to visit loved ones as well as to shopping centers and stores. For those who live in snow-belt states winter driving can be especially challenging.

Snow (and related weather events, like frost, sleet, and freezing rain) can significantly reduce the friction of the road surface, and slippery roads are significantly more dangerous than dry roads. A variety of studies suggest that you are about 50 percent more likely to have a crash on a road under winter driving conditions than on the same road under dry conditions.

States, cities and local agencies use many available tools to take care of our roads and address the negative consequences of winter weather. By plowing snow and using road salt in a safe and sustainable manner, road agencies can reduce accidents on roads under winter driving conditions by as much as 88 percent and can reduce injuries in those crashes by 85 percent according to a study by Marquette University. Those are significant improvements in safety. To achieve those gains, agencies must make sure they get the right amount of road salt to the right place, at the right time and keep the road salt where it will be effective.

The key is in recognizing how road salt works. The purpose of the road salt is NOT to melt the snow, but rather to stop the snow from freezing to the pavement. If that goal is achieved, then plowing the snow off the road is simple and extremely effective, and it turns out that preventing that bond does not take much salt. The exact amount depends on a variety of factors (example – the colder the road surface, the more salt is needed) and will be different for every storm.

Getting the road salt to the right place means having plow trucks deployed at the correct time, and in order to keep the road salt on the road surface (rather than bouncing off or being swept into a ditch) agencies pre-wet the road salt with salt brine. All of which means that those snow plow trucks you see on the roads during snow storms are doing quite a bit more than just pushing snow around!

In addition to enhancing the safety of our roads in winter conditions, those snow plows are doing a lot to improve mobility. These “snowfighters” reduce weather caused delays and congestion, allowing for emergency vehicles to respond more quickly when people need help, making for shorter travel times for families, allowing kids and parents to get to school and jobs safely and on time.

In fact, a study by IHS Global Insight for the American Highway Users Alliance found that snow and ice related delays and shut downs hurt hourly workers the most. This study also placed a monetary value on fast and effective snow removal and salting. According to the researchers a state can incur economic losses of between $300 million and $700 million every day that roads are closed and impassable. So, those snow plows are not just helping keep families together and safe, they are helping to keep the lifeblood of our commerce pumping during winter storms – a thing for which we can all be thankful!

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