How can you stay safe on Nebraska roads this winter?

Story and multimedia by Michael Snow, NewsNetNebraska

The first snowfall brings joy and happiness to people across the state, but it can also bring terror.

With the snow come icy roads and bad driving conditions, and that means more accidents. According to a report by the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) November through February have the most accidents compared to other months.

The same report shows that 11.1% of crashes throughout the entire year are on snowy surfaces. This number may seem low, but considering it snows an average of 17.9 days per year across Nebraska.

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With the snow come snowplows, which can pose more danger on the road.

Nebraska Department of Roads Communication Division Manager Mary Jo Oie says, “We ask drivers to keep their distance from our plows and do not cut them off because it decreases their visibility.”

The process of plowing the streets is a lot more than just plowing when it starts to snow says Oie.

“We not only build the roads, we maintain them. We really have to plan it out ahead of time, we are big weather buffs here at the Nebraska Department of Roads. When we see bad weather coming we not only de-ice we also pre-ice by treating the roads with a mixture of salt brine and gravel and other things it really depends on what kind of ice we are fighting, then when the snow does come we plow the roads.”

The most dangerous kind of ice according to Oie is black ice.

“You grew up hearing about black ice, you can’t see it at all. If you are not prepared for it, it can be very dangerous.”

John Stevenson, an Omaha native, says he has experienced the terror of black ice.

“Last year I was on a class trip and it was me and a few other people in the car, we were crossing a bridge and the driver lost control. We actually went off the bridge and crashed to the ground. Thank God no one was seriously hurt, but that was the scariest moment of my life.”

You should always be cautious while driving, but it is even more important when these conditions could be present.

Stevenson said, “Yeah, ever since then I have been extremely careful whenever there could be black ice on the roads. One slip up and things could go terribly wrong.”

Oie says there are several different ways to make sure you are prepared for the road conditions and to make sure you stay safe.

“Well, most importantly make sure you buckle your seatbelt. Other things you can do is to make sure your battery is in working order, have a full tank of gas if you are traveling more than forty-five minutes, if you see a plow, maintain a safe distance from them, and be sure you know the conditions you are driving into.”

According to the US Institute of Health, fatalities actually decrease during snowy months, most likely due to decreased speeds, but non-fatal crashes increase greatly. The most dangerous driving day of the year is the first snowfall in terms of fatalities compared to other days with snow.

Poor weather is present in 20% of fatal highway crashes and 28% of non-fatal highway crashes according to the same report.

The NDOR’s goal is to eliminate all inclement weather fatalities. Nebraska is one of the worst states for icy roads, and with that comes fatalities. In 2009-2010 Nebraska had the second most fatalities due to icy roads with 23. The only state with more was Pennsylvania with 26 fatalities.

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Oie warns people that when the roads get icy, it doesn’t matter what kind of car you are driving, you always need to be careful.

“When the roads get iced over four wheel drive won’t do anything. Ice will affect four-wheel drive cars the same as two wheel drive cars. Just because our plows have laid salt and gravel down doesn’t mean the roads are perfectly clear. Always be careful when ice may be present. “

If you ever have any concerns or questions about road conditions, Oie says to call 511 and to,

“Know before you go.”

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