Like most Atlantans, I was stuck at home for three days this week, catching up on home repair projects and watching weather reports and scenes of truck wrecks on TV. Fortunately, there was no power failure. I recall once in my childhood at Mentone, Alabama, we had an ice storm that closed schools for two weeks and knocked out our electricity for a month.
This being 2011, I was able to access the office computer remotely, though the connection is so clunky I’m ready to investigate cloud computing.
Wednesday I tried six routes to get to the office, but all were blocked by vehicles whose drivers could not negotiate icy hills. Even in an all wheel drive vehicle in low gear, I couldn’t get by them.
I don’t criticize the state and city governments for not having fleets of snow removal units. This isn’t New York. We get a winter storm like this about once per decade. It makes no sense for cash-strapped governments to invest many millions in specialized snow removal equipment that may be used 10 days out of 10 years.
But there are some points worth noting:
- Fortunately, collisions with serious injuries were not reported, probably because most people stayed off the roads.
- Most of the worst problems on the roads related to tractor trailers trying to get through despite the weather. While I imagine a lot of those drivers were pushed by dispatchers hundreds of miles away to press on despite the weather, the companies and the drivers share responsibility to pull off and wait for conditions to clear.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations §392.14 provides:
Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction. Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated. . . .
- I hope that debriefing from this event includes identification of trouble spots and revision of contingency plans for future winter storms. A lot of changes in local roads and traffic patterns have occurred since the last winter storm of this magnitude. Local governments that prepositioned snow removal units, and started clearing main roads while the snow was still falling, seemed to fare best. That might include:
– Close metro expressways to through truck traffic when the Governor declares a winter weather state of emergency. Distant dispatchers would not be able to harrass drivers to press on despite unsafe conditions. To facilitate this, designate adequate parking areas outside the perimeter where truckers could wait out the storm. There are shopping center parking lots off exits outside the perimeter that are little used during winter storms that could be utilized in such an emergency.
– Pre-position snow removal units at critical areas, such as tricky slopes and intersections, when a winter storm is forecast.
– Begin scraping, salt and sand on main roads while snow and ice are still falling.
Ken Shigley, author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice, is a Certified Civil Trial Attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He practices law at the Atlanta law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard, and has broad experience in catastrophic personal injury, spinal cord injury, wrongful death, products liability, brain injury and burn injury cases. He is also president-elect of the State Bar of Georgia. Ken and This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.