Stay cautious on roads when weather breaks

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Frozen roads and clear skies can be a dangerous combination when motorists let their guard down, local police say.

HOUGHTON — In a perfect storm of distracted drivers, cold temperatures and driving too fast for the conditions high car accident rates could continue.

Over the past several days police departments around the Keweenaw have reported high numbers of vehicle accidents despite relatively clear skies.

In fact, those clear skies could be a contributing factor.

“I think what we see is people…tend to change their driving habits when it starts getting clear,” said Hancock Police Chief Wayne Butler. “People tend to be more overconfident when the weather starts breaking.”

This contributes to what Butler sees as the main issue: drivers going too fast for conditions and driving beyond their ability.

The temperature is another major factor.

“The roads are still icy, even though the visibility is better, and it seems like the roads should be better,” said Michigan State Police Sgt. James Revoyr. “They’re not, because it’s still cold.”

The Houghton Police Department observes the same problems.

“Since it’s so cold out, the sand and salt don’t stick to the road, and then when you have a snow or ice buildup, it’s hard to get that off,” said Houghton Police Lt. Nick Roberts. “So when you put sand and salt down, tires are just picking it up and taking it away, leaving it with glare ice on the road.”

M-26 is particularly bad, even with the sanders out on the roads. Drivers often are traveling too fast to stop in time.

“People don’t realize that when it’s slick like that, you need a very lengthy distance to stop…and if you’re doing 35-45 (mph), and you slam on your breaks, you’re going to slide,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he gets even more concerned about weather-related accidents with the mix of cold temperatures and big events like Winter Carnival.

“Everybody likes to slow down and look at the statues in their cars, and we get a lot of rear-end accidents that way,” Roberts said.