Around 24% of car accidents in the U.S. each year are weather-related, killing about 7,400 people. That’s added an extra level of danger in the Midwest United States these last couple weeks, as cold air from the Arctic, known as a polar vortex, has brought extreme temperatures and heavy winter weather to large parts of the continental United States. Record-breaking temperatures have brought portions of the Midwest to as low as 50 or 60 degrees below zero including wind chill.

After several years of milder winters, many cities may be caught unprepared this year by the wave of cold and winter storms creating dangerous conditions on the streets. Municipal budgets for handling the snow and ice may be stretched to the edge, and the consequences may be felt throughout the rest of the winter, which is expected to continue to be colder than average by at least 15 to 25 degrees in many areas of the United States.  

Cold Weather Collisions

Automobile accidents generally become more common every year as unpredictable weather mixes things up and take drivers by surprise. This year will likely be worse than usual, as reports of large accidents across the Midwest have hit headlines. Videos were spreading online capture moments of sudden snow flurries that lead to accidents like the 30-car pileup in Michigan. A particularly scary car accident involving 21 vehicles taking place all the way east in Upstate New York has even made its way into international media. And these are just a few of the large-scale car accidents caused by the intense weather.

Some states like Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin declared emergencies during the height of the cold. Even as they have worked to fight through the catastrophic weather, the polar vortex hit hard. The weather has been directly found responsible for at least 21 deaths, mostly just as a result of the cold itself. People have been encouraged to stay off the roads and inside as much as possible during such weather events, as car accidents related to winter weather regularly kill far more people than other weather-related disasters like hurricanes and floods.

Avoiding Risks on the Road

Probably the most dangerous part of winter weather on roads and highways is not the accumulation of snow but sudden changes in the weather. Sudden, unexpected flurries of snow, ice, fog or even rain can blind drivers and cause accidents almost immediately. The loss of visibility can be instrumental in causing massive, significant collisions, especially if paired with slippery road conditions. Ice on the road and the lack of control, as a result, can also be a serious factor causing many road collisions.

Automobile accidents are a serious and dangerous concern all year-long, but conditions in the winter make them especially likely. Accidents can put you at risk for everything from broken bones to death. A car crash can cause traumatic brain injury or paralysis. So think twice before you get on the road. But if you have to go driving, be sure you’re alert and prepared to watch conditions as they develop and drive defensively if need be. Don’t drive in winter weather unless you’re specially prepared to drive in such conditions.