No accident

Don’t let caution fly out the window When winter storms hit the highway

November 30, 2005

Don’t call them “accidents.”

Crashes or wrecks are more appropriate terms for most of the vehicle incidents that happened on Interstate 84 and other lanes of travel in the post-Thanksgiving snowstorm.

That’s the reaction of Lieut. Gregg Hastings to the repeated spin-outs, stalls, fender-benders and other problems on the freeway Monday night and Tuesday morning after four inches of snow fell on the area (click First snowfall snarls roadways).

No one, Hastings included, makes light of any unwanted or hazardous occurrence involving a car traveling in the snow or any other weather condition.

But Hastings has a point: avoidable is the word to describe most of the crashes that happened in the year’s first Gorge-level snowfall.

For example, many drivers ignored the posted instructions to chain up. Many others drove at high speeds inappropriate for the conditions.

“It’s a challenge we have mostly in mountain passes but given the conditions present there it’s similar,” Hastings said.

Troopers, short-handed as it is, would issue more citations if they had the time, for failure to comply with chain or tire requirements, impeding a lane of travel, and a wealth of other potential violations, according to Hastings.

Ironically, they do not have the time during snowy conditions, because they are short-staffed and because they must move from one hazardous situation to the next.

The further irony of Monday’s storm is that weather prognosticators pegged the exact time of the start of the storm.

Gorge residents were surprised to hear the Oregon Department of Transportation alert us to a winter storm to hit at 3 p.m. Not “mid-afternoon,” or “sometime before dusk,” as the predictions usually read. They said 3 p.m., and the first flakes started to fall in Hood River at 2:50 p.m. with the lacy precipitation coming down in earnest 10 minutes later.

Which points to the fact that we all had warning and time to prepare. And that underscores the central point all drivers must try to remember when bad weather hits.

“The wrecks were all avoidable,” Rivers Edge driver Mike Sullivan said Monday, echoing Hastings, “if people would slow down and find an alternative route.”

There was at least one serious injury in a wreck on snowy Highway 35, and our best wishes go out to the victim and his family.

Our unusual November storm we can take as a not-so-subtle hint to be prepared and use utmost caution for our own sake and those in the lanes next to us and in front of us.

Truly, vehicle safety is no accident.

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