Even light rain increases the risk of traffic fatalities, study finds

traffic fatalities

Credit: senorjackson

A study from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies found that fatal traffic accidents are 34% more likely to occur during “precipitation events.” Fatal accidents are 27% more likely even in light rain.

The term “light rain” refers to a drizzle, or when rainfall is almost heavy enough to bring out an umbrella.

The problem with light rain, experts say, is that people aren’t as cautious as they would be in heavy rain. During periods of heavy rain, drivers tend to slow down. But during periods of light rain, people may carry on as if it were a sunny day.

The study looked at more than 125,000 fatal accidents in the United States between 2006 and 2011. They also looked at weather patterns during the time when the crashes occurred. Instead of relying on police reports and data from nearby weather stations, the researchers used high-resolution radar data analysis to accurately pinpoint the types of weather patterns that cause the biggest increase in fatalities.

The likelihood of a fatal accident is still higher when precipitation is heavy, but the fact that deadly accidents spike in just light rain is surprising. Crashes caused by precipitation are amongst the leading causes of accidental death in the United States. Around 33,000 people die each year due to motor vehicle crashes.

Poor weather can complicate auto accident cases. In cases where an accident lawyer (or abogado de accidentes) must get involved, placing blame on either party can be tricky if precipitation is involved. A car accident attorney can help you sort out if the weather related accident is covered by insurance and how best to resolve liability for injuries.

The study also found that the risk of an accident due to wet weather is highest during morning rush hour and in the winter, when precipitation is more likely to be snow or freezing rain.

The radar data used in the study came from the NOAA’s NEXRAD reanalysis, which was the result of a collaboration between NCICS, the National Centers for Environmental Information and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Thanks to the reanalysis, the researchers were able to receive data at five-minute interval grid points.

Researchers were also able to break down the results into different regions. The risk was highest in the Northern Rockies and lowest in the Northeast. Experts speculate that the risk may be lower in the Northeast because it’s a more urban area and people are not driving fast enough for a fatal accident to occur.

Risks may be higher in the Northern Rockies due to the high amounts of snowfall the area receives.

Crashes related to alcohol and drugs were removed from the study to keep the focus on precipitation as a causal factor. Separate data from the CDC shows that around 10,500 people die due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes each year, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths.


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