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Only fools drive unnecessarily on icy roads

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By Jackie Torok, Managing Editor

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: If a life or job didn’t depend on you driving down the county’s icy roads last week, you had no business driving.

You wanted to see the snow on the beach? Too bad. Wait for your island neighbors to share the photos with you via the Beacon, Facebook, Instragram or the old-fashioned way: with glossy prints.

You ran out of that ingredient you needed to complete your CrockPot recipe? Tough. Make something else for dinner.

Oh, you say you’re from the North or Midwest? Hey, so am I! And you know what? It’s just as dangerous, if not more so, to drive on ice here as it is there.

I’m willing to wager a tidy of sum of money (don’t get too excited; I don’t actually have a tidy or even unkempt sum of money at my immediate disposal) that the majority of crashes and fender-benders on last week’s icy roads were entirely preventable.

I can’t offer sympathy to anyone who shouldn’t have been driving in the first place and wiped out.

You do realize that if you were one of the drivers who had no reasonable grounds to be on the road and wrecked your vehicle, you not only endangered yourself and your passengers, but also your fellow motorists who had a legitimate reason to be driving — like having to come to your aid. Right?

Driving on ice is a challenge for the ice road truckers featured on television shows, too, by the way. While public safety personnel are likely better trained to drive in hazardous conditions than the rest of us, sometimes it isn’t enough to save them. Perry House III, a 52-year-old Greensville County, Va., sheriff’s deputy went missing while out on patrol the same Friday warmer temperatures started thawing the ice here. He was found dead the next morning in his vehicle, which was submerged in a creek after he apparently lost control of it on an icy road nearby and crashed.

See, around these parts, ice storms happen so infrequently, neither the state nor Brunswick County and its municipalities maintain a fleet of salt trucks and snowplows to clear roads in the event of severe winter weather.

I’ll let Brunswick County spokeswoman Amanda Hutcheson break it down for you here: In North Carolina, the state “Department of Transportation handles road maintenance. While some municipalities maintain roads, counties do not, including Brunswick County. Even if asked to help out during a weather event like this, we do not have the staff or equipment to do so safely and effectively.

“The DOT itself did place brine and salt on roads ahead of the storm, beginning Sunday (Jan. 26). Unfortunately, freezing rain can wash away or dilute brine and salt, and some areas had rainfall before it changed to freezing rain or sleet.

“While the DOT did get out on roads every day (and many nights) trying to clear roads and lay additional brine, salt and sand, this storm was a statewide event. DOT resources were stretched thin as officials tried to clear roads all across the state.”

You know what else? Salt doesn’t always prevent ice from forming on roads. Coating the ice with sand or basic clay cat litter can give you some traction, but probably not enough to get to your intended destination safely. And scraping ice with a snowplow is only a solid plan if you’re trying to create a makeshift skating rink.

If Mother Nature wants to encase every square inch of Brunswick County in thick, glassy, gorgeous, deadly ice, no one can stop her.

Look, I’m from Cleveland where the lake effect creates bone-chilling temperatures to go with the usual snow, ice, freezing rain and sleet of a typical winter. I’ve driven on icy roads up there and, by pure dumb luck and the help of a guardian angel or two, I’m here to tell you about it. Nothing terrifies me more as a motorist than the prospect of driving on ice, especially black ice. I’d rather be caught in a torrential downpour with none of my fellow drivers burning their headlights. (But please, for the love of all that’s good in this world, please turn on your headlights in the rain, as state law requires.)

I’ll let you in on something else: I’m pretty sure I’m here to tell you about surviving the ordeal of driving on ice because I haven’t so foolishly tried to do it again.

 

Jackie Torok is the managing editor of the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or editor@brunswickbeacon.com.