New study finds connection between weather and car accidents

Technological advances allow scientists to study the level of precipitation before a car crash.

It is not surprising that bad weather will impact the risk of a car accident. Data from the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration Road Weather Management Program explains that precipitation impacts more than just visibility when driving. Rain and snow reduce pavement friction and can cause lane obstructions. This will impact vehicle performance and river capabilities, increasing the risk of an accident.

But how much precipitation increases this risk? Does the amount matter? A recent study provides some answers.

What was the study? Scientists with North Carolina State University looked specifically at fatalities resulting from motor vehicle accidents on highways. They also analyzed if the amount of precipitation impacted fatality rates, comparing light and high-level precipitation producing storms.

Why is this study different? Anyone that has traveled in a storm knows the amount of rainfall or snow can differ when crossing even short distances. The team was able to use data from 130 weather radar systems to analyze the weather conditions and precipitation levels at the crash sites of 125,012 fatal accidents throughout the country from 2006 to 2011. As a result, the lead author of the study states the analysis provides a unique level of precision not present in previous studies.

What did the researchers find? They found a significant connection between storms and accidents. The researchers analyzed storms that produce both rain or snow and labeled these as "precipitation events." Based on their data, the researchers stated that a precipitation event increased the risk of a fatal accident by 34 percent.

The researchers were also able to distinguish between the risk present at a "light" or "high" level of precipitation. Researchers found a light level increased the risk of a fatal accident by 127 percent while high levels increased the risk by 246 percent.

What can we learn from this information? This type of precision can help drivers and autonomous vehicles better prepare for the roads during a storm. This can help address the 1,094 fatal accidents in 2017 in Ohio reported by the Ohio State Highway Patrol as well as the 738 fatal car accidents on both public and private roads reported in neighboring Kentucky by the State Police. Automobile designers and government agencies can work together to reduce the risk of an accident by using this data to build safer vehicles and safer roadway systems.

Drivers can also take this research as a reminder of the importance of increased vigilance during a storm. A failure to safely operate a vehicle can result in an avoidable crash, causing injuries and even fatalities. Residents of Ohio or Kentucky injured in such accidents have legal recourse. An attorney can review the details of the accident and discuss the options available to hold the responsible driver accountable for their wronging.

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