This is the fourth of a five-part series that addresses the many factors that can result in traffic accidents and the injuries, fatalities, property damage and other societal harm associated with them. In Colorado, we enjoy all four seasons of the year and can be subjected to quickly changing the road conditions. Here we will seek to understand the different challenges that drivers encounter such as muddy, icy, or snowy conditions and identify the best practices for traveling safely.
Colorado Crashes Impacted by Road Conditions
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) accumulated data based on a period from 2005 to 2015 outlining accidents that occurred as a result of varying road conditions as follows:
- Wet roads: 36%; Yearly average: 7,804
- Icy roads: 33%; Yearly average: 7,204
- Snowy roads: 19%; Yearly average: 4,199
- Slushy roads: 5% ; Yearly average: 1,083
- Muddy roads: 1%; Yearly average: 136
Colorado Crashes Impacted by Lighting Conditions
The CDOT's data outlining accidents that occurred as a result of varying lighting conditions from 2005 to 2015 are as follows:
- Daylight: 70%
- Dark lighted: 16%
- Dark unlighted: 10%
- Dawn or dusk: 4%
As reflected in the data, road surface conditions become more dangerous when there is moisture, such as rain, ice, or snow. Falling rain or snow can impact driver visibility and potentially delay reaction time. On a wet road surface, your vehicle's performance in braking and turning are both reduced.
Driving in the Snow in Colorado
Depending on regional patterns in directional airflow, temperature, and elevation, the amount of snowfall in Colorado cities can fluctuate greatly. Annual snowfall in the state varies from roughly 30” to 190” depending on the location such as: Pueblo (31), Colorado Springs (37), Denver (53), Boulder (88) and Aspen (178). While driving in the snow you will encounter “slushy” conditions, patches of ice, and also be less able to clearly identify characteristics on the road such as potholes. When driving in snowy conditions it is best to avoid sudden or dramatic instances of acceleration or deceleration. Allow yourself additional space (braking distance) when approaching stop signs, traffic lights, and intersections; typically an additional 30% of distance is sufficient. Acceleration is best done slowly and steadily, particularly when changing lanes, turning, or encountering stretches of roadway with inclines or declines. In severe snow storms, often the safest course of action is to postpone your travel until the snowfall has stopped and road crews have had time to begin clearing the surface.
The majority of vehicles today have some variation of anti-lock braking system as standard equipment. Years before, the best practice for braking in slippery conditions was to execute a “pump” action of several pushes to the brakes for better stopping. This practice was to avoid “locking up” your brakes when they engage fully and place the vehicle into a slide. Anti-lock brakes actually will automatically apply the brakes in a pulsating or fast series of intervals to prevent the car from sliding. Remember that when you minimize your speed of travel, you generally limit the likelihood of encountering situations where you lose control of your vehicle. When driving amid snowy or muddy conditions, it is possible that flying snow and mud can begin to accumulate, and even freeze, on the covers for your headlights. This is a very dangerous situation during the periods with less natural light, as your headlights may be guiding you at a greatly limited capacity. Be sure to check for any build-up that can limit the effectiveness of your headlights.
Interstate 70 Mountain Express Lane Project
During periods of rain, snow, and ice, the highways through the Colorado mountain regions are particularly dangerous for motorists. In 2016, the state implemented a program of using an “express lane” in response to increased traffic. Since the overall traffic volume has increased approximately 8% but there has been roughly a 20% reduction in incidents. Incident response times have increased by an average of four minutes. The added express lanes are now accommodating over 2,600 vehicles per day.
Colorado residents and visitors are able to enjoy all four seasons within the state. Unfortunately, we have no control over unpredictable weather events. Making sure that your vehicle is in good working condition is critical. How the vehicle is operated, particularly when roadways are covered with rain, snow, or ice, is the responsibility of the driver to ensure that we all make it to our destinations safely.