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                Sunday, January 8, 2012 - 7:24PM

Commentary on the recent viral WV pileup video

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The recent viral icy road video in circulation of a camera-equipped car involved in a multi-vehicle pileup in West Virginia provides an opportunity to bring up a couple of points of discussion about a few common myths and misconceptions.

LINK: West Virginia pileup video (Language warning, mute the audio if necessary)

  1. The road conditions in progress illustrated snow icing, not "black ice". This may seem slightly nitpicky, but the icing in this video was not 'black ice', but rather pure snow. 'Black ice' is the visually stealthy phenomenon created by freezing rain, freezing drizzle and freezing fog. See Types of road icing and causes and a picture of what actual "black ice" looks like.
  2. MYTH: Driver skill can prevent ice-related accidents at high speed. TRUTH: Avoidance of high-speed icy road collisions is usually more related to luck/chance and less about driver skill. Comments on the video largely praise the camera car's driver (Mitsubishi Evo) for his skill in avoiding a collision while disparaging the driver of the neighboring vehicle (Ford Flex) for colliding with the minivan. The reality is that the chance positioning of the stopped vehicles, and the lane the moving vehicles were in, was the sole determining factor of the outcome. Both vehicles (and the 18-wheeler) equally were traveling too fast to safely avoid the accident - the camera vehicle (Evo) was able to avoid a collision simply because it was in the left-hand lane, and only *by chance* had a clear path to avoid the stopped vehicles ahead. If any of the stopped vehicles were resting a few feet to the left, the Evo would have not been able to avoid colliding with them. The Flex simply had nowhere to go and could not have possibly avoided a collision, skill/technique or lack thereof, had no role in the outcome.
  3. Both vehicles were traveling too fast for the conditions. While evidence indicates that the intermittent snow squalls in progress at the time would have resulted in a rapid transition from clear roads to snow-covered roads, this transition zone would still have been just gradual enough for vehicles to see it coming and react. It is obvious from the video that many vehicles did not slow down upon encountering the first signs of snow on the road, continuing on at highway speeds despite the worsening conditions (the engine on the camera vehicle can be heard throttling down only after the accident ahead is visible, by then too late). The reasons for this widespread behavior are probably deeply rooted in the current public perception of the road ice hazard as merely a nusiance, and not the real threat to life and property it truly is. Drivers feel that their vehicle can continue on at highway speeds as a result of tires, antilock brakes, traction control or stability control. In reality, none of these technologies allow for safe highway speed travel on icy roads. See the article No vehicle can safely go highway speeds on icy roads.

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

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Past Blog Archives
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Educational Winter Driving Videos - Watch for Free:

Video: How to correct a slide on an icy road (and how to prevent them)Video: Icy Bridges: Weather's underrated killerVideo: Deadliest Weather: Freezing Rain

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