In the third part of the series, we look at another factor in vehicle accidents—weather conditions. Colorado's geography and terrain allow for beauty and great recreational activities, yet many of the state's roadways travel through mountainous regions that receive massive amounts of snow. Due to these changes in elevation, drivers face significant stretches of roadway with sharp inclines and abruptly changing weather conditions. During the winter, the possibility of ice on the roadways is extremely dangerous. Weather is obviously a non-human cause of vehicle accidents; however, humans can significantly impact the likelihood of being involved in a weather-related accident. Drivers should follow weather forecasts for areas they will be traveling, maintain their vehicle in preparation for weather-related challenges, use extra caution when operating in inclement weather, and maintain emergency equipment and supplies that could be necessary if faced with dangerous conditions.
Weather Related Fatalities in the U.S.
Although major weather events such as tropical storms, tornadoes, and flooding that cause significant loss of life and property damage are highly publicized, more common weather conditions such as rain, snow and ice contribute to significantly more fatalities in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), over 5 million automobile collisions occur annually and approximately 22% of them involve severe weather. Their categories of hazardous weather conditions include wet pavement, rain, snow/sleet/slush, ice, and fog. Rain, which may occur year-round, is the largest single most hazardous condition, slightly more than snow and more than fog. It is not always road surface conditions which lead to accidents, as decreases in visibility can be dangerous as well. Ice is very dangerous for motor vehicle operators, even in very small amounts. Ice may not be visible to a driver and is a risk regardless of the type of vehicle.
Colorado Winter Driving Tips
- Remember that four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive may provide better traction and better ability to avoid getting stuck in the snow; however, when you encounter ice, the vehicle will still have trouble stopping and be difficult to control.
- Your tires should be properly inflated and be replaced when tread diminishes to maintain control in rain, snow, and ice.
- Reduce your speed in inclement weather, particularly along curvy mountain roads.
- When roads contain rain, ice, or snow, your braking distance needs to be increased to account for possible difficulty is reaching a complete stop. Allow some extra distance between vehicles that you are following.
- Have your vehicle's radiator system flushed and filled at least every other year.
- Replace your wiper blades each year and maintain the washer fluid level—visibility problems cause accidents.
One of the most dangerous road conditions to encounter is referred to as “black ice”. This is a layer of ice that forms thinly and is clear (transparent), which may give a driver a false sense of safety by blending into the pavement below. It is common in areas where melting snow or rain form into ice such as bridges and shady strips of road.
Colorado Traction Law (Code 15)
CDOT regularly monitors weather conditions that affect highway travel. You can be updated by text or e-mail to traffic alerts by registering at COtrip.org. Listening to radio weather reports and read electronic highway sign for updates as well. During a Code 15, drivers must have snow tires, mud and snow tires, or four-wheel drive capability. Tire chains or traction devices such as AutoSock should be used when necessary.
Colorado Passenger Vehicle Chain Law (Code 16)
During a Code 16, the weather conditions have become dangerous and all vehicles must have tire chains or another traction device. Code 16 is the last warning issued prior to a road closure if conditions continue to worsen. Those who violate the Passenger Vehicle Traction and Chain Laws may be fined.
Far too many drivers fail to use the necessary caution to safely operate a vehicle during inclement weather. It is critical to remember to reduce speed and account for greater braking distance in rain, snow, and ice. Preparation is key to prevention of accidents in inclement weather. Keep informed of weather forecasts and condition reports. Make sure you prepare your vehicle properly and avoid unnecessary possibilities for a crash.