Is winter weather associated with higher accident rates?

Winter weather can lead to reduced visibility and increased obstructions, but that does not necessarily mean drivers are at an increased risk.

As the weather starts to cool down and snow becomes a possibility across Washington, D.C., many residents are likely gearing up to drive on potentially slick roads. According to the Federal Highway Administration, winter-related weather conditions, such as snow, ice and slush, play a role in the car collisions that take place on public roadways. Snowy conditions result in an average of 739 fatal car accidents per year while ice and slush account for 559 and 538 annual fatal wrecks respectively, which each account for 2 percent of all crashes that result in a death. While snow and ice may affect the cars on the road, this winter weather does not necessarily cause higher accident rates than other times of the year.

Snow decreases mobility

Snowfall can make it harder for drivers to travel at normal speeds because of the decreased visibility caused by the falling precipitation and the lane obstructions related with accumulated snow. A light snow can reduce highway speeds by 3 to 13 percent. Heavy snow, on the other hand, can slow traffic down by as much as 40 percent. One of the common dangers of this season is some drivers may continue to travel at normal speeds, which gives them less reaction time. It is safer for everyone on the road if vehicle operators slow down their speeds during any inclement weather.

Rainfall more dangerous

While snow can affect the safety of drivers, most weather-related crashes actually happen on wet pavement or during rainfall. Wet pavement is associated with 73 percent of all weather-related collisions while rainfall is tied to 46 percent. For comparison, ice results in 13 percent of weather-related wrecks while snow results in 17 percent and slush in another 14 percent. Winter weather can lead to car accidents, but rain causes more. This could be because rain happens over more of the year.

Unexpected changes increase risks

When drivers are aware of the risks, they can drive with more caution. However, if the weather changes rapidly, it can result in higher accident rates. For example, bursts of heavy snow may decrease visibility and cause lane obstructions, but drivers may still continue to move at high speeds because the change was too sudden. On highways, this can lead to deadly pileups. Similarly, roads may ice up overnight, which can leave vehicle operators with less traction than they expected.

Winter weather conditions like snow, sleet, ice and slush may affect the safety of drivers in Washington, D.C., but these cold weather incidents do not cause a higher risk for drivers than other weather elements do. No matter what season it is, it may be beneficial to work with an attorney if a vehicle crash takes place.