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Motorists fail to slow down when roads are icy

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Ryan Duemmel, left, and his brother Jason look at the icy road conditions on Pioneer Trail. Ryan rolled his truck on the slick road and was not injured in an accident that involved five vehicles on Friday morning.
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A rash of accidents this weekend has prompted law enforcement to warn motorists of the hazards of driving on icy roads – especially in the mornings and and along stretches of shady areas.

On Friday and Saturday alone, four accidents happened in the city on Pioneer Trail east of Al Tahoe Boulevard according to police scanner traffic and an accident victim.

Kelly Burbee chose to go into a snowbank instead of into oncoming traffic on Saturday when she skidded out of control heading westbound on the popular alternative to Highway 50 near Edna Drive.

Pioneer Trail was slick most of the way, the Bay Area woman recounted. A vehicle was pulled off to the side, and she slid off the road traveling only 20 mph, she said.

“I tapped my brakes. Thankfully, I missed a house and a few trees,” she said. “I was pretty shaken up.” Burbee added she saw two other accidents the same day.

A wet winter has created pools of rain runoff and snowmelt throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin. When water freezes over, the potential exists for vehicles to skid off the road or into oncoming traffic.

“Every year people forget how to drive when in snow,” police Officer Ric Martinez said, while on patrol. “Even people going up to Heavenly with chains on couldn’t get up the hill.”

He described the scene over the holiday when vehicles riding on Needle Peak and Keller roads leading up to the ski resort slid backward.

“And they usually keep these roads pretty clear,” Martinez said.

To illustrate driving conditions, Martinez crossed Ski Run Boulevard on Needle Peak at Hansen’s sledding hill and slammed on the brakes. It was an example of what not to do, despite the innate response to do so.

“When we get the light, dry snow on top of the ice, it gets slippery,” he said. “They could be driving 5 mph and still skid out. I try to tell these people their brakes are their worst enemy – just put it in first gear.”

Rollovers often occur when a vehicle skids then hits a dry spot.

Some areas are worse than others – especially those with any kind of pitch. The officers know the spots and call city Public Works to lay out the sand mixture when they need it.

Because of sunlight, traveling is safer in the middle of the afternoon than in the mornings.

“They don’t just happen in the mornings. In the evenings, once the sun sets you get those freezing conditions,” California Highway Patrol Sgt. Sean Patton said Sunday.

Motorists tend to not pay attention when a road is clear and therefore maintain a normal speed. But once they hit an icy patch, drivers can lose control, Patton said.

Of the four accidents this weekend in Patton’s jurisdiction, one of them was when a motorist hit a patch of ice in Alpine County on Highway 88 near Hope Valley. The motorist hit a tree but was not injured, Patton said.

“People are driving too fast. They take a curve and overreact. That’s the main thing,” he said.

Then, there’s black ice. The sergeant believes if motorists drive at safe speeds, they’ll be able to see the slick surface across the road.

To be extra defensive, Patton recommended motorists provide double the normal space when following another vehicle, which is one car length for every 10 mph.


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