Yesterday in Minnesota, 546 vehicles drove off the road and 461 vehicles crashed into something (often, another vehicle) due to storm conditions. In one of those incidents, a person died. In neighboring Wisconsin, there were over 400 crashes and two dead.
If this was a disease epidemic over the same time period, it would be way worse than the H1N1 flu or the cholera epidemic currently hitting Haiti. Yes, yes, I get that this is a temporary short term phenomenon, but if we put all the stormy weather end to end in time it would be an event of a week or two duration (depending on the year). Imagine an event that takes two weeks, kills 25 people in Minnesota, 50 in Wisconsin, a high proportion of those injured or killed being the Venerated First Responders, and damages or destroys 10 thousand vehicles, that could have been prevented with a different strategy.
And yes, there is the potential for a different strategy. While all this mayhem was in progress, I was speaking with a friend who drives a plow. The storm had been going for 12 hours, and he had not been called in yet, so I asked him why.
“They wait until the cops start complaining about accidents, then they call us in, and in a few hours we’ve got the streets cleaned.”
So, it would appear that the public works professionals are unaware that between 3 and 15 inches of snow cause hazardous driving conditions, and need to re-learn this every storm.
Well, to be honest, they do know know about the hazards of the storms. They are just using a strategy of dealing with the storm that saves money. That’s taxpayer’s money, and we wouldn’t want taxpayers to pay for something they don’t have to. Several thousand accidents and a dozen or two dead (over a season) is a low price to pay for an extra dollar a week or so in taxes to fund a snow clearing operation more like they have in New York or Massachusetts, where plows clear snow from beginning of the storm to the end (or at least, that’s how it was done when I lived there).
Here in Minnesota, a “good snow day” is one in which 36 hours of havoc is followed by 10 hours of towing cars away and plowing. That is the standard: You wait until the snow ends, or the cops start complaining that too many of their own were almost wiped out while helping a stranded motorist, then “snow emergency parking” rules go into effect, and you plow.