WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, November 6, 2017) ––Wet leaves reportedly caused a spate of crashes on the George Washington Memorial (GW) Parkway on Sunday, according to traffic reports. The GW Parkway has a “total of 99 species of trees” and they are giving up their dead leaves. If it is rainy and wet, watch for patches of damp leaves in the roadway. The weather forecast is calling for rain showers this afternoon and throughout Thursday in the immediate area. It has the makings of drizzly commutes for the next few days. Although the peak fall foliage viewing season is fading fast, its remnants - those fallen leaves – deposited and discarded on soggy roadways, saturated sidewalks and soaked surfaces can spawn hazardous conditions for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and anyone trying to negotiate the terrain. Layers of leaves line area roadways and neighborhoods in leafy suburbs.
Driving over wet leaves on the GW Parkway on a damp day reportedly caused some drivers to spin out of control. Crashes took place on the 25-mile Long Parkway near the scenic Potomac overlook, and reportedly in the northbound lanes near Virginia State Route (SR) 123 around the Fort Marcy Park Area, and in the southbound lanes near the Francis Scott Key Bridge. It is a reminder that in damp weather, wet leaves reduce traction on wet roadways. Keep in mind, the first 15 minutes after showers or a rainstorm are the most dangerous because of the oils that are released onto the road from the dry leaves.
The GW Parkway boasts numerous “forested areas,” warns the National Park Service, which maintains the Parkway. Such crashes are not uncommon on other roadways throughout the Washington metro area this time of year. So slow down and take other safety precautions, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. Leaves blown across roadways by heavy wind gusts can make it more difficult for drivers to see road surfaces, potholes and other road debris and hazards. With the end of Daylight Saving Time yesterday, the sun rises later and sets earlier, making it more difficult to see large patches of sodden leaves on the road.
“Drivers should slow down when roads are covered with soaked leaves and they must learn to take turns and off-ramps more carefully,” warns James Spires, Regional Manager, AAA Car Care Centers. “Fallen leaves can cover potholes and act as camouflage for curbs, causing damage to tires and suspension systems when drivers drive over or smash into them. A blown tire or broken suspension part can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. For safety’s safe, before starting your vehicle, remove any leaves from your windshield to prevent them from getting stuck under wiper blades.”
The GW Parkway is graced with 15 species of oak trees or shrubs (genus: Quercus). A single big oak tree will yield “1.25 million to 2 million” fallen leaves. Wet leaves are “slicker than ice,” the saying goes, and they can make traveling on highways hazardous during the autumn and early winter. Drivers are urged to slow down and to use extra caution on leaf-covered roadways, especially on turns and around curves. Drive slowly through leaves and avoid hard or panicky braking. To remain safe and sound, it is also imperative for drivers to increase their following distances from the vehicles in front of them when traveling over leaves because “wet leaves make stopping more difficult.” It also gives drivers more room and time to react to road conditions. In addition to littering roadways, leaves present a road hazard and cause slippery and slick roads when it rains and the fallen foliage is wet, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Most people don’t realize that driving on wet leaves can be just as dangerous as driving on black ice,” insurance underwriters and traffic safety advocates warn. When traveling too fast for conditions, layers of wet leaves on the roadway or in traffic lanes can cause the loss of vehicle control, collisions, and make the simple tasks and maneuvers of “braking, steering and stopping” more difficult for drivers to accomplish.
Wet leaves in the fall and frozen leaves in the fall are perilous. Sopping wet leaves on sidewalks and walking surfaces can be hazardous for pedestrians, children and the elderly, causing them to slip and fall. The odds of that happening increases once Daylight Saving Time ends in November, and the darkness makes it more difficult for walkers to see the leaves under foot in poorly lit areas. Water-logged leaves on roadways can also imperil the lives and limbs of motorcyclists, who say “wet leaves be as slippery as an oil slick and can suddenly take away the remaining traction and lead to a fall.”
Fallen leaves pose a hazard to cyclists too. “As leaves decompose, they create a greasy film, which becomes pretty slippery when mixed with water,” notes a cycling blog, which advises bicyclists to avoid accelerating and braking on leaves, and to “avoid biking on leaves altogether.” Research shows the rates and ratios of crashes on slippery roads “were greatest among the youngest drivers,” according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. “Multiple leaf piles in the street might cause drivers to swerve and risk running into oncoming traffic or obstacles in the road,” safety advocates say.
Watch for patches of wet leaves on the road or on road lines. Pay extra close attention on wet and damp days, when temperatures are around the freezing point.
Don’t panic if your vehicle skids on a plot of wet leaves. Stay cool, calm, and collected. Don’t slam on your brakes and steer the car in the direction you wish to go.
Slow down if there are large patches of leaves on the road. This reduces the chances of being in a crash, or spinning out of control.
Increase your following distance on driving on leaves. This will give you plenty of ‘stopping room” when following other vehicles.
Don’t drive over a pile of leaves. Kids and some dogs love to play in piles of leaves. Wet leaves on the roadway cause hazards to vehicles attempting to stop, start or change direction.”
Don’t park on a pile of leaves. Dry leaves can also present a problem to your vehicle. Avoid parking your vehicle near leaf piles to prevent fires that could start from your vehicle’s catalytic converter.
Don’t park under trees. Let unchecked, the “sap, tannic acid, and pollen” in fallen leaves can despoil car parts and deface the exterior car paint finish of vehicles. Wash it away without delay.
The George Washington Memorial (GW) wends its way along the south bank of the Potomac River under the “canopies of beautiful trees.” The roadway was “designed for the sole purpose of recreational driving,” the National Park Service advises, and commercial vehicles, including trucks, are prohibited, on the GW Parkway. As the leaves of “deciduous trees” undergo a spectacular transformation in the fall, many fall foliage aficionados and earnest “leaf-peepers” traverse the GW Parkway to “enjoy the colors of fall from their cars.”
To learn more tips or about other solutions AAA provides motorists and their vehicles, please visit AAA.com/Automotive.
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