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A study by Jerry has found that climate-related car accidents have increased by 72% in the last few years, from 4,813 per year in 2005, to 8,277 in 2019. Every state has seen an increase in these types of accidents, which have rain, snow, fog, strong winds, and other severe weather conditions listed as a cause on the crash report.
While it is hard to define the specific cause of each individual accident, the overall trend suggests that climate change, and an increase in extreme weather conditions, is making driving more dangerous.
This is evidenced by the fact that California, Florida, and Texas have seen the largest increases in the number of climate-related accidents, and these states have been most impacted by global warming.
One reason why drivers from these historically mild climates are at greater risk, is their relative inexperience when it comes to driving in bad weather.
With an increasing number of hurricanes during the summer, and an increasing amount of snow and black ice during the colder months, many of them are being forced to learn new skills, and adapt to driving in worse conditions.
How is climate change causing more car accidents?
The answer to this depends on where you live. But for residents of California, Florida, and Texas, having a large coastline is proving dangerous.
In California, an expansion of high-pressure weather is causing severe drought, by forcing rainfall away from land and back into the ocean.
During these dry spells, layers of dirt, oil, and grime build up on California’s roadways. While this scenario can be hazardous by itself, it becomes especially dangerous when rain finally does arrive, and the materials rise to the surface.
When this happens, roads and highways become extremely slippery, increasing the chances of skidding and hydroplaning, and ultimately causing more car accidents.
In Florida and coastal Texas, drivers are facing the opposite problem of too much rain. A warming ocean is causing more frequent hurricane conditions over coastal cities. Strong crosswinds and wet conditions have led to an increasing number of motor vehicle accidents.
Southern drivers are also dealing with a new climate-related phenomena: winter storms. As the Arctic Circle warms, polar winds are being pushed further south, causing increased snowfall in areas which are not prepared for it.
What can drivers in these states do about it?
While drivers cannot control the weather, they can control how they react to it. Nationwide, the number of car crashes doubles when weather gets worse, but the most significant spikes are seen in areas where the weather is generally good.
An example of this was during Winter Storm Uri, earlier this year. The storm was notable for its reach, which spread from the Pacific Northwest, into the South, Midwest, and Northeast.
During the storm, the majority of fatal crashes were confined to southern regions, with Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, all seeing multi car pile ups.
Compare this to Vermont, officially the snowiest state in the U.S., which received a similar amount of snowfall to Texas during Uri, but didn’t see a significant increase in the number of serious car accidents.
Of course, part of this is due to the volume of traffic; Vermont's roads are significantly less busy than those in Texas, but it’s also down to how drivers adapt to snowy conditions.
One of the most serious winter crashes in Texas actually preceded Uri by a few days, but the results were sadly the same. Interstate 35 saw 133 vehicles involved in a pileup, in which six people were killed and dozens hospitalized.
Following an investigation, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovered a brine solution had been used to treat the road, but this was insufficient, in part because motorists were failing to to slow down.
How to drive in bad weather
If you find yourself driving in very high winds or struggling to see clearly due to weather, the best thing you can do is get off the road and wait for the weather to improve.
If you are driving in wet conditions, stopping is not usually necessary, as the vast majority of slick surface accidents can be avoided by slowing down.
Here’s some more basic tips for driving in bad weather:
Thick fog: Slow down so you have more time to react to hazards as they appear. Keep your windows down so your hearing can compensate for poor visibility. Use low beams instead of bright headlights which will reflect water droplets and further reduce visibility.
Heavy rain: Turn on your headlights. If you find yourself hydroplaning or skidding, don’t turn the wheel. Instead, remove your foot from the accelerator, and brake slowly until you regain control.
Snow: Reduce your speed dramatically, and stay at least three car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you. If the snow is really bad, turn on your hazard lights.
Icy roads: Drive very slowly. If you see a patch of ice approaching, slow down even more. It is generally a bad idea to brake while driving over a patch of ice, as the car’s weight can shift, causing you to spin.
If you lose control: Immediately take your foot off the accelerator. If your back wheels are skidding, slowly turn the wheel in the direction of the spin. Never turn abruptly, as it will cause you to overcorrect, and likely make things worse. If you continue to slide, brake slowly and deliberately, rather than slamming down on the pedal.