Winter car wrecks are often preventable

Spin out on slippery roads
A car on Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul spun out during a winter storm late last year.
Courtney Perry / For MPR News, File

There are a lot of ways to get in an accident driving on winter roads, but most crashes don't involve hitting another car.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the most common winter accidents are one-vehicle crashes caused by sliding off the road and hitting the median or other objects — and sometimes even rolling over.

State Patrol spokesman Jesse Grabow said the accidents happen not just when there's snow or black ice on the roads, but also when visibility is low.

"And any time that happens, people might panic, or there's a curve or bend in the road, and maybe they don't make it there, so they end up running off the road, striking some other type of fixed object, or even the occasional rollover," said Grabow.

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Most incidents where the car slips off the road are caused by people driving too fast in poor conditions, he said, or driving when no travel is advised. Most are preventable.

In crashes caused by winter weather conditions, ice or packed snow was the most common cause — with more than 5,600 crashes in 2012.

Snow and slush came in second with 5,000 crashes, according to the most recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety.

In 2012, about 2,800 crashes involved a vehicle sliding off the road and overturning or tipping over. Other Minnesota winter driving facts from the State Patrol:

• West Central and northwest Minnesota, and other rural areas, are notorious for reduced visibility in winter because of flat, open areas.

• Greater Minnesota represents a higher portion of unbelted fatal crashes than the metro area.

• Most crashes happen during winter, but a larger number of fatal crashes occur during warmer months due to driving speeds. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, in 2013 crashes, the deadliest months were July (52), September (50) and November (38). The months with the fewest fatalities were January (16), March (22) and December (22).

• All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive does not decrease chances of slipping off the road.

• Although roads are slippery, you can prevent your vehicle from running off the road if you are going slower and increase your following distance.