Surprising Facts About Weather Related Crashes
Extreme seasonal weather that rattles drivers’ nerves – sleet, ice, snow, and fog – is not the biggest weather-related threat on the nation’s roadways in terms of crashes, injuries, and fatalities.
In 2018, official data for 2007-2016 showed that wet pavement and rainfall accounted for 70 percent and 46 percent, respectively, of all weather-related crashes. That’s far more than snow (18 percent), ice (13 percent), and slush (16 percent). Wet pavement and rain contributed to 1.4 million crashes, 537,000 injuries and 6,523 deaths. 1
Weather-related crashes were 21 percent of total crashes.
What Does This Mean for Employers?
There are two takeaways for employers from these weather-related crash statistics. First, employers who roll out safe driving instruction only when weather forecasters predict snow, ice, and sleet are not hitting the bullseye in their efforts to save billions of dollars in costs and millions of lives lost in weather-related crashes.
Second, in years when warmer-than-normal winter temperatures are forecast for much of the nation, as in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast for the first quarter of 2020, there is a risk of dismissing weather-related road hazards altogether. That’s not prudent, especially when motor vehicle crashes are the first or second leading cause of death in every major industry group.2
Safe driving is a year-round concern, with rain and wet pavement the largest weather-related threat. It is a concern for all industries, and not just the transportation industry’s burden. Why? The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) highlights this fact: 55 percent of employees who died in work-related motor vehicle crashes in 2017 were not employed in motor vehicle operator jobs.
In all industries, employers need to create and enforce crash-prevention policies and provide instruction in inclement weather driving proficiency to strengthen safety performance year-round. State and federal transportation agencies are working to help the cause by exploring technology to bring forth the next generation of weather responsive traffic management.
There also are steps drivers can take – with their employers’ encouragement – to guard again weather-related roadway risks.
Keeping Drivers Safe from Weather-related Hazards
While drivers are ultimately responsible for their safety, employers can encourage them to follow safe driving practices by providing regular information sessions to communicate the importance of driving safety. Here are some recommendations offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)3:
- Drive clear-headed. Never get behind the wheel under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Avoid fatigue. Get plenty of sleep before a trip. Stop at least every three hours. Rotate drivers, if possible
- Give space. Allow more distance between vehicles in inclement weather.
- Stay alert. Expect the unexpected, such as people walking on the road or stalled vehicles.
- Practice, practice, practice. By rehearsing cold weather driving in wet, snowy, or icy conditions in an empty lot, drivers can become familiar with how a vehicle responds and stay cool under pressure.
Federal Regulations on Hazardous Conditions
United States Code of Federal Regulations, Part 392 discusses hazardous road conditions and the use of extreme caution, as they apply to regulated commercial vehicle drivers. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidance, 49 C.F.R. §392.14 makes the driver responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle – and for the decision to not operate a commercial vehicle, due to hazardous conditions.
§392.14 Hazardous conditions; extreme caution states:
“Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. Whenever compliance with the foregoing provisions of this rule increases hazard to passengers, the commercial motor vehicle may be operated to the nearest point at which the safety of passengers is assured.”
Additionally, as stated in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA), an employer is prohibited from firing, disciplining or in any manner retaliating against a driver for refusing to operate a commercial motor vehicle when doing so would violate federal rules related to safety, health, security, or reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the driver or the public. Read more in an OSHA fact sheet.
Employers should hold discussions with their commercial vehicle drivers and other employees who may drive for the business to explain the company’s policies and expectations, as well as the relevant legal provisions.
Highway Agencies Supporting Technology-enhanced Roadway Safety
Just as there is a hierarchy of safety controls in the workplace (elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment), there are different types of road-weather management strategies in highway safety. These include:
- Advisory strategies to provide information on prevailing and predicted conditions to both transportation managers and motorists
- Control strategies to alter the state of roadway devices to permit or restrict traffic flow and regulate roadway capacity
- Treatment strategies to supply resources for roadways to minimize or eliminate weather impacts, which may involve coordination of traffic, maintenance, and emergency management agencies
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – through its Road Weather Management Program (RWMP) and a key RWMP initiative, Weather Responsive Traffic Management (WRTM) – works with state transportation agencies and professionals to mitigate roadway safety challenges due to adverse weather.
A vital aspect of these efforts is gathering, integrating, and disseminating accurate, relevant, and timely transportation and meteorological data to reinforce safety.
There are more than 2,400 interactive Environmental Sensor Stations (ESS)4 owned by state transportation agencies to provide information on current atmospheric, pavement, and water level conditions5, specifically:
- Atmospheric conditions – air temperature and humidity, visibility distance, wind speed and direction, precipitation type and rate, tornado or waterspout occurrence, lightning, storm cell location and track, and air quality
- Pavement conditions – pavement temperature, pavement freeze point, condition (wet, icy, flooded), pavement chemical concentration, and subsurface conditions, such as soil temperature
- Water conditions – tide levels (for example, hurricane storm surge), and levels of streams, rivers, and lakes near roadways
Information is disseminated through multiple channels, including automated warning systems. “Better information about impending and existing weather threats leads to better decision-making by transportation managers who employ mitigation strategies to minimize weather impacts on roadways,” lead authors Paul Pisano and Brandy Hicks of the FHWA, state in an overview of Federal Highway Administration Road Weather Management Program Activities.6
The Weather Responsive Traffic Management initiative has already fostered new practices, such as citizen reporting systems, weather responsive traveler information, and weather responsive active traffic management. Next-generation strategies involve intelligent agency fleets and technology-connected vehicles., with pilot implementation projects in Washington State and Delaware.7
Resource: Final Report: Connected Vehicle-enabled Weather Responsive Traffic Management, US Department of Transportation, April 2018.
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- How Do Weather Events Impact Roads? US Department of Transportation-Federal Highway Administration, September 2018. Accessed December 2019.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2004-2018), Table A-2. Accessed December 2019.
- Safe Winter Driving. US Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accessed December 2019.
- National Environmental Sensor Station Map, Road Weather Management Program, Federal Highway Administration. Accessed December 2019.
- Surveillance, Monitoring, and Prediction, Road Weather Management Program, Federal Highway Administration. Accessed December 2019.
- Pisano P, Hicks B, Persaud R, Goodwin L, Stern A. An Overview of Federal Highway Administration Road Weather Management Program Activities. Penn State University College of Information Sciences and Technology. Accessed December 2019.
- “Connected Vehicle-Enabled Weather Responsive Traffic Management,” US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. April 2018. Accessed December 2019.