Accident rates soar on first snow day

186 reported wrecks occurred in Columbia.
Friday, December 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Columbia’s first major winter storm of the season, which covered the town with 3 to 5 inches of snow, demonstrated that even experienced winter drivers can be caught off guard by a sudden storm.

On Wednesday, 186 accidents were reported to the Public Safety Joint Communications Center. That number was “certainly more than the normal dozen or so,” accidents the center handles on an average day, said James McNabb, the center’s director.

McNabb said mid-Missourians never seem to get used to snow.

“People don’t have an opportunity to get used to it because it comes, then it goes,” he said. “And the next time an event comes, it happens all over again.”

The Columbia Fire Department says recent indications show that about 70 percent of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in vehicles, mostly because of accidents caused by icy conditions. People caught outside during a winter storm account for 25 percent of fatalities.

Fire department officials say that by taking precautionary measures, drivers can minimize the risks associated with winter driving. In addition to common sense measures, such as using safety belts and driving more slowly, the department recommends taking the following precautions:

n Motorists should approach intersections with caution. Intersections can be dangerous, as other vehicles might not be able to stop in time.

n Keeping a vehicle’s gas tank full minimizes the risk of ice forming in the gas tank and fuel lines.

n Traveling with a companion increases a motorist’s chances of survival in an emergency situation. If motorists must travel alone, they should make others aware of their plans.

n A storm survival kit is essential. Items to include are a knife, a tool kit, a tow rope, a large empty can and paper towels for sanitary purposes, a water container and waterproof matches for melting snow to drink, a compass, road maps and a sack of sand or kitty litter to enhance a vehicle’s traction.

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