Winter weather brings increased road risks in Oregon, so slow down

By Alex Hasenstab (OPB)
Dec. 1, 2022 1 p.m.

When winter weather hits, car collisions increase. Snow, rain, fog and ice can cause slick roads and low visibility. Wind can down trees, creating hazards in the roadways. Oregon State Police public information officer Kyle Kennedy said drivers need to face the truth: They cannot drive the same speed in these weather conditions that they would on a typical day.

Cars head southbound on Highway 217 at Walker Road in Beaverton, Oregon, on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, following a snow storm.

Cars head southbound on Highway 217 at Walker Road in Beaverton, Ore., on Dec. 15, 2016, following a snow storm.

Nate Sjol / OPB

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“We post our speeds on the highway, and those speeds are meant for optimal driving conditions,” Kennedy said.

But the moment hazards appear, drivers need to slow down to a speed that is appropriate for the conditions. Kennedy said someone operating a vehicle should be able to react to the unexpected, be it a car swerving in front of them or a fallen branch.

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“Are you driving the speed that you can maneuver your vehicle around them or get on the brakes to stop before them?” Kennedy asks. " And if the answer is ‘no,’ you’re probably going too fast.”

The National Weather Service said winter weather systems will continue moving through Oregon into the weekend, with the Cascades, the Columbia River Gorge and Eastern Oregon potentially seeing quite a bit of snow.

Already this week, fog caused an accident on Interstate 5 near Albany, and winter weather and collisions triggered the closure on Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon.

Ten-year data from the Oregon Department of Transportation shows October, November and December had the highest number of reported crashes, coinciding with the beginning of the rainy season. Nationally rain causes the most weather-related crashes, more than snow and ice combined.

“It’s a staple of Oregon, and yet when it comes along, we tend to drive at speeds that allow for hydroplaning and speeds that we are unable to control our vehicles when unexpected circumstances arise,” Kennedy said.

How slow is slow enough? Kennedy said it depends on how severe conditions are, and what condition your vehicle is in. But he says slowing down to as low as 15 mph, even on highways, would not be unreasonable in heavy snow or fog.

Additionally, Kennedy said people should check ahead of time to see what weather conditions they will face on their route, and consider staying home if conditions are bad. Drivers should make sure their vehicles are properly maintained and equipped for the weather, and they should have emergency supplies and proper clothes on hand in case they getting stranded on the road in bad weather.

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