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The Ides of March


Snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain: take your pick because more than likely you will experience all or almost all of these weather conditions in the month that is upon us. March is the transition month from winter to spring, and the weather can be cold, warm or something in between. As a result, driving can be rather tricky; not only do you not know what to expect from day to day—or even morning to afternoon—but the in-between temperatures that change rain and snow to freezing rain and sleet can produce some of the most hazardous road conditions.

When March weather leads to hazardous road conditions, the most important safety factor for drivers is recognizing the danger and adjusting driving behavior accordingly. Above all else this means slowing down and increasing the following distance behind the car ahead. Failing to understand the impact of bad weather events on driving conditions leads to accidents: from 1996-2011, more than 12,000 people died in the U.S. in vehicle accidents during winter precipitation (the average fatalities per year was 817 deaths). This accident rate represents 2% of all traffic accidents, and the annual death rate is greater than the combined total of people in the U.S. killed from all direct weather hazards such as lightning, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, etc; that total is app. 600 people per year.

The surprising fact is that rain causes more driving fatalities than snow in 39 out of the 50 states (Georgia being one of those states). Oil residue builds up on roads, and when rain first comes into contact with residue on the roadways, it makes them extremely slick. Add to this the fact that many people underestimate the hazards of rain and are therefore less cautious than they would be in snow, then mix in low visibility due to heavy rain, and you have the perfect storm (pun intended) for traffic accidents.

Because March weather is unpredictable, safety tips for driving in rain, sleet/ice/snow, and fog are given below.


As noted above, when rain mixes with the oil residue on roads, the result is a very slippery road surface, especially in the first half hour of the rainfall. Less traction means less braking ability, and that means more stopping time is needed. In a heavy downpour there is a risk of hydroplaning, which occurs when roads are covered with water and a driver is speeding fast enough that the vehicle’s tires do not actually touch the road but rather glide along the surface of the water. Obviously, there is no traction in this scenario, and therefore it is extremely dangerous. If you feel your vehicle hydroplaning, slow down to get back on the surface of the road again, and tap the brakes to establish traction. If visibility is poor due to heavy rain, darkness or mist, use headlights.


Always remember that bridges and overpasses freeze before roads do, so slow down when approaching them and drive on them with caution. When you first get on a road during a sleet and ice event, test your brakes by tapping them to gauge the road conditions. If snow has started to accumulate on the road, try to drive in the tire tracks of other cars; this creates a “psuedo” paved lane and can give you some added traction. Do not change lanes unless it is unavoidable; snow and ice build up in between lanes of traffic and can cause your vehicle to swerve or get stuck. Beware of so-called “black ice;” the name is a misnomer because the ice is actually transparent, taking on the color of whatever is under it. This makes the ice almost impossible to see, causing virtual traps on roadways. If you are unlucky enough to get on a patch of black ice, do not use the gas or brake pedal. Steer straight ahead until you are off the patch and can establish traction again.


Fog causes a high number of crashes in the South and West. When driving in fog, do not use your high beams or even your regular head lights; use your fog lights. Turn off music and other audio distractions and use your ears to compensate for your diminished visibility. Listen to traffic noises—for honking horns indicating a back-up, for instance. Tap your brakes several times before stopping or slowing so that your brake lights can warn the driver behind you. And of course: slow down!


If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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