If you asked a people to guess the most dangerous aspect for Americans of being involved in severe weather, you'd probably hear answers that ranged from being swept up by tornado-force winds to being crushed by hurricane-strewn debris.
Certainly, those things tragically happen, and they get a lot of media attention when they do.
However, our Charlotte personal injury lawyers have learned that in fact the deadliest aspect of severe weather is seen on the roadways.
That's according to meteorology researchers at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
News stations will cover multi-car pile-ups, especially when they are serious. There have been quite a few of them so far this year - 19 on U.S. highways, and they've left 700 wrecked cars and 8 fatalities in their wake.
However, it's the everyday, bad weather wrecks that actually cause the most wrecks. In most cases, it's a single or two-car crash on wet roads.
In an average year, an estimated 7,000 people in the U.S. die in highway crashes that are caused by weather such as heavy rain, sleet, fog or snow. Most of these incidents involve one, maybe two deaths at a time, so they tend to receive very little coverage. They aren't catastrophic or sometimes even dramatic, so you won't see the kind of attention paid to deaths caused by flash floods, tornadoes, hurricanes or heat.
There is one group that is paying closer attention.
A recent gathering in Washington D.C., the American Meteorological Society's Washington Forum, was primarily focused on how to reduce or prevent this glut of weather-related crashes across the country.
The group said that until recently, even the National Weather Service didn't include weather-related vehicle crashes into its weather death tolls. The reason was that the standard was whether the weather played an active role in the person's death.
So for example, if a huge pile of snow falls from a tree and crushes a person, the NWS would consider that a weather-related death. However, if someone crashes in a snowstorm, officials would have said that the person was driving too quickly in the elements, and therefore it wasn't the snow that killed the driver but his or her own actions.
The meteorological group said the recognition of these deaths as legitimate, weather-related deaths will help them formulate informational releases to the public to help reduce these kinds of incidents.
One of the options being explored is something called a Vehicle Data Translator, which would provide motorists with real time information on atmospheric and road conditions. This technology would get information to people faster than roadside signs, and could warn of conditions such as wildfire smoke, fog, black ice, hail or blizzard whiteouts.
You can't necessarily prevent drivers from speeding or not paying attention or driving drunk. However, the idea is to cut down on the surprise element that so often contributes to weather-related crashes.
Ultimately, the goal is to make sure everyone makes it home safely.
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