WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, January 7, 2020) ––Some area school children are getting their first snow day of the brand New Year or heading home early. With snow in the forecast for the region, federal workers in the Washington metro area are “getting out of Dodge early” as federal offices shuttered at 1 p.m. The closure of federal offices also spells an earlier start to the afternoon rush hour. Given this, commute times could double throughout the region, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. As they head home, commuters and drivers should exercise caution and know the safety rules for dealing with winter road emergencies.
Some research suggests the first snowy day of the year is “substantially more dangerous” for drivers. What’s more, some earlier research revealed some drivers are “more likely to become involved in a crash during the first snowfall of the season compared to other snow days.” Even so, “the first winter storms of the season usually result in numerous crashes because people fail to adjust their driving habits to the road conditions,” area police and transportation officials advise.
The transition to snow inside the Washington Capital Beltway is expected to occur around 2 p.m., just ahead of the PM peak rush hour (3-7 p.m.). It is certain to also impact the evening commute. In fact, “the heaviest snow is expected between 2 PM and 6 PM.” The National Weather Service forecasts the region is “generally expecting 1"-3", with 3"-5" across the higher elevations. High end amounts could add an extra inch or 2 to these totals.”
“Expect snow covered and slippery roads, and then expect the unexpected. So take it slow – with stopping distances 10 times longer, gentle maneuvers are the key to safe driving in snow and ice,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Drivers braving the first snow of 2020 should remain cautious and slow down to keep from being in a crash during the earlier than usual afternoon rush hour.”
The rush is on. The Washington metro area boasts 361,009 federal workers and more than 400,000 contracted workers. Federal workers are evenly spread out throughout the region, so every major freeway and roadway will be impacted by the early commute. Metrorail and Metrobus will also feel the impact. About 27% of all weekday trips on Metro are made by federal workers. There is no way around it: snow adds extra time to your commute. As you depart early, try to plan or plot a route that sticks to main roads and avoids smaller or lesser-used roads.
Area transportation departments and AAA urge drivers to take precautions in the wake of slippery driving conditions. Winter storms, bad weather and sloppy road conditions are a factor in nearly half a million crashes and more than 2,000 road deaths every winter, according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Far too many drivers become stranded on the roadside this time of year. Nationwide, AAA handles an average of 600,000 emergency roadside assistance calls per week in the winter with the most common problems being dead batteries, extractions, towing and flat tires.
“Unfortunately, there are a disproportionate number of crashes this time of year involving bad weather and winter storms,” explained Bruce Jenkins, Manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic Emergency Roadside Assistance Fleet Depot for Springfield and Richmond. “Snow and sleet can cause significant safety problems by reducing visibility and making it difficult to maneuver or stop.”
Some commuters could see substantial delays along the Inner Loop and the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway, I-66, Interstate 295 and DC-295, the Key Bridge, I-270, I-395, Dulles Toll Road, the George Washington Parkway, the Southeast Freeway, and other heavy commuter routes such as Chain Bridge or New York Avenue (U.S. Route 50). Bus commuters can expect crowded conditions along Metrobus high-boarding stops on Georgia Avenue, Benning Road and Bladensburg Road.
Face it, traffic congestion is the worst during the evening hour in the nation’s capital and across the national capital area. A trip that normally takes 20 minutes in light traffic could take 40 minutes or longer, as federal workers and area students bail out early. With snow in the forecast and in the mix, throw travel time reliability out the window. Expect slick roads and bottlenecks throughout the region, especially northwest of Interstate 95. AAA urges drivers to be cautious while driving in adverse weather.
Don’t pull away without clearing all snow from your car. That includes the roof, taillights, headlights and side mirrors.
If you’re traveling across a bridge at the start of a storm, keep in mind that surface will likely freeze before typical roads.
Don’t let speed limits dictate how fast you travel. They’re set for ideal road and weather conditions, not slippery pavement.
Along those lines, leave additional following distance.
Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface, such as on ice and snow.
Watch the traffic ahead of you. Slow down immediately – but again, moderately – at the sight of brake lights, skidding vehicles or emergency lights.
Intersections can be especially as ice thaws from the heat of idling vehicles. Water on top of ice is a very dangerous situation.
Avoid unnecessary lane changes. Changing lanes increases your chances of hitting ice between lanes, which could cause a loss of traction and, potentially, a crash.
Make certain your tires are properly inflated and have plenty of tread.
Do not send or read text messages, or engage in other distracting behavior.
If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tires some grip.
Keep a bundle of cold-weather gear in your car, such as extra food and water, warm clothing, a flashlight, a glass scraper, blankets, and medications.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research report (Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries and Deaths in Relation to Weather Conditions), analyzed bad weather and crashes throughout the year. The study found that rain, snow, sleet and fog are a factor in more than 1.1 million police-reported crashes, 425,000 injuries and 5,100 traffic deaths per year.
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