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There’s no doubt about it, driving in snow and ice is dangerous. Slippery roads cause longer braking distances, which in turn leads to more traffic accidents. However, somewhat surprisingly, it’s not the most dangerous winter driving condition faced by Americans.
According to a study by Jerry which analyzed crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fog, smog, and smoke cause more fatal winter crashes than snow.
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What does the winter driving study show?
The study shows that 9 of the 10 states with the most fatal winter crashes are in the South or Southwest—areas which don’t get much snow.
In fact, Mississippi and Alabama have more than three times the number of fatal winter crashes (per capita) than Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Utah—states with far harsher winters.
While snow does cause 50 to 200 fatal crashes across the U.S. each winter month (December, January, and February), this is less than the number caused by fog, smog, and smoke.
Fog, smog, and smoke are dangerous throughout the year, causing between 50 and 100 fatal crashes every month, and spiking in December, when the average number of fatal crashes caused by these conditions surpasses 200.
Why are fog, smog, and smoke so dangerous to drive in?
The most obvious answer is reduced visibility. While whiteout snow can also have this effect, thick fog makes it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.
Additionally, fog, smog, and smoke affects all areas of the country, and can strike at any time of year, whereas snow is largely confined to winter in the northern and mountainous regions. This prevalence is why it causes so many fatal crashes.
Fortunately, the threat can be mitigated if you learn how to drive with reduced visibility. As advised by the National Weather Service:
- Slow down! (this is easier said than done when trying to outrun a forest fire, but speed is the number one killer when driving through fog and smoke).
- Keep plenty of distance from the car in front. This will give you more time to react when they are stopping or turning.
- Keep your low-beams on. This will also keep your tail lights on, making you more visible to drivers behind you. If you have fog lights, now is the time to use them.
- Never use high-beams during fog. They cause additional glare, further reducing visibility ahead.
- Stay in your lane. During very thick fog, focus on the white lines. Drivers often make the mistake of following tail lights ahead and drift into oncoming traffic.
- If visibility is near zero, turn on your hazard lights and pull off to the side of the road. Once parked, turn off all lights except your hazards, and wait for visibility to improve.
So there you have it. Driving through fog, smog, and smoke is more dangerous than you might think, but by practicing defensive driving, and modifying your speed to suit the conditions, you can safely reach your destination.