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The Deadly Crash on I-40 Speaks to the Dangers of Early Spring Weather

The Deadly Crash on I-40 Speaks to the Dangers of Early Spring WeatherThe last weekend of March, the snowfall was so heavy it shut down parts of I-40 and Rt 87. Since it was 65° that weekend in Phoenix, it seems hard to believe that it dipped below freezing in places like Flagstaff and Winslow, but it did. The northern parts of our state are often hit with icy, wet conditions.

These conditions may have been the cause of a deadly crash on I-40 on Wednesday. A woman driving a pickup truck apparently “veered into a median and then overcorrected and swerved back onto the road, causing [the pickup] to roll several times,” according to AP News. Three people died (one of them was a 4 month old infant) and five people, including the driver, were hospitalized with injuries. The crash is still under investigation and our hearts go out to the families of the victims, because this is a true tragedy.

What caused the driver to swerve?

We don’t know; the police haven’t said. What we do know is that the temperature in and around Winslow, where the crash occurred, keeps dipping below zero at night, dropping between 30 and 40 degrees. That can create dangerous road conditions, because any ice and snow that melts during the day but is not absorbed by the evening can easily turn into black ice.

Why overcorrection can be so dangerous

Overcorrection, also known as oversteering, is a common reaction to an unexpected event while driving. Common causes include animals running into the road, tire blowouts, sliding on a patch of ice, or hydroplaning in water. It’s defined as a driver “abruptly steer[ing] the wheel more than that is expected or necessary. Usually, the wheel is steered in the opposite direction to that of vehicle’s direction, which could result in loss of control of the vehicle.” You can make an argument that slamming on the brakes is also a form of overcorrection, but most folks use it in association with steering.

Overcorrection is dangerous because it can cause a driver to lose control. Remember – many of these incidents happen at speed, so when you yank the steering wheel in one direction, the vehicle can slide. It can also roll over, which is what happened to the driver in Winslow: the pickup rolled when the driver tried to reenter the road from the median.

The “CPR Method” can help you avoid overcorrection

Because these situations are so common, it’s worth knowing how to protect yourself in the event of unexpected black ice, debris, or wildlife. The CPR Method may help:

  • Correct your vehicle by looking at where you want to go and steer in that direction.
  • Pause by letting your foot off both the brake and gas.
  • Recover by getting back into the proper lane.”

(In case you’re a more visual learner, this short video from “Partners for Safe Teen Driving” offers tips on how to recover if the car exits the roadway.)

Is there any way to travel safely in poor weather?

When the weather is poor, there’s always a risk. Unless you’re driving a literal tank (which has treads instead of tires), there is always a chance of sliding or hydroplaning, or getting into a crash because of low visibility.

But if you must travel in dangerous weather conditions, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risks.

  1. Fill your tires. Tires with the right air pressure are less likely to slide and skid.
  2. Clean your windshield before you leave. Poor visibility can lead to accidents, so make sure your windows are clear and clean. Top off your windshield wiper fluid (just in case) and if applicable, clear the snow off your roof so it doesn’t slide down the vehicle while you’re driving.
  3. Leave more space between you and other cars. Your stopping time may be different in rain, sleet, or even fog, so leave extra room between you and other vehicles.
  4. Strap kids into car seats without their coats on. We know this sounds counterintuitive, but car seat harnesses are less effective if your child is wearing a puffy coat. Instead, dress your child in thin, warm layers and cover him or her in blankets. In the event of a crash, this method is safer for your child.
  5. Turn your lights on. Anything that makes you visible is helpful. If you don’t have running lights, turn your headlights on.
  6. Don’t exit the car into the roadway. If your car does end up sliding or disabled, stay in the car if you can. If you cannot, exit into the shoulder, not into the road – and then get as far away as you possibly can, and call for help.

Read more: The Dangers of Sandstorms for Arizona Drivers

One last note: it’s legal to ride in the back of a pickup in Arizona

According to the The Sun, Arizona is one of 20 states with no laws about riding in the back of a pickup. Just because something isn’t illegal, however, doesn’t mean it is safe. There is always a risk of ejection from the bed, even if the truck doesn’t roll over; it’s simply one of the risks of riding in an open-air vehicle with no seat belts.

But there are other injury risks, too. There is very little protection if debris is kicked up from other vehicles’ tires (or if it falls from above), and the lack of support and padding in the bed can also cause serious injuries to a passenger’s neck or back. In the event of a collision, that passenger could hit his or her head on the metal frame or bed of the truck, increasing the risk of concussion or TBI.

All of us at Plattner Verderame, PC hope that the families of the victims of Wednesday’s rollover crash find some peace. If you need help, call us at our Phoenix or Tempe offices or use our contact page. Our consultations are free.