All I Need Is a Good (Snow) Defense

Here we are on the verge of winter, and whether you associate this time of year with cozy nights by the fire, or with bleak and dreary days, the fact is that wintry precipitation contributes to about 1,300 fatalities and 117,000 injuries every year on the nation's roads. So, what could be a more timely first issue to cover in our new blog than the importance of proper winter roadway maintenance and operations?

The American Highway Users Alliance, a DC-based transportation policy group and RSF's parent organization, addressed this topic in a white paper highlighting the important role that road salt plays in saving lives and keeping lines of commerce open. Noting that snow-related road closures can cost states upwards of $300-700 million per day, this salt primer recommends that highway authorities stock up on their supply early in the year, and have at least a season's worth stockpiled by the beginning of autumn. Even if the up-front cost is high, the return on investment is tremendous: by keeping roads open and cutting crashes by nearly 90%, timely salt application pays for itself in less than a half-hour, and within the first four hours the benefit to road users is $6.50 for every $1.00 spent.

One reason salt is so effective is that it's a deicer, meaning it actually melts ice and snow and facilitates these hazards' complete removal from the roadway by snowplows. This is distinct from an inert abrasive like sand, which can improve vehicle traction but only until more snowfall covers it up, or vehicle tires remove it. Of course, regardless of what's being spread, it's imperative to give salt and sand trucks plenty of space to do their work. Slow down, and never follow too close. After a snowfall, get the undercarriage of your vehicle washed to promptly remove any salt. Abrasives, unfortunately, are more likely to chip paint and glass; if you do notice a crack in your windshield, have it repaired right away.

Despite the potential hazards, there are a number of things you can do to be a safer winter driver. Keep an especially careful eye on your tire pressure, ensure that your car's vital fluids are topped off, keep an emergency kit in the trunk (don't forget a blanket and water!), and keep enough gas in the tank at all times in case changing weather conditions lead to long backups and closed roads. And don't forget to use extra caution around snow plows! Our Canadian friends up at Teens Learn to Drive in Toronto share some tips with us here.

We don't yet know just how harsh this winter will turn out to be, but whether your roads are clear or buried in snow, stay prepared and be safe out there.