Study finds smallest amounts of snow cause biggest commuter problems

[graphic courtesy NWS Des Moines]

By Matt Kelly, Radio Iowa
Studies find nearly 75% of crashes in Iowa happen in less than two inches of snow, and researchers at the University of Iowa are looking into the ideal commute times.

Professor Jon Davis, in the U-I Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, says the timing of your drive can make a world of difference.

“The commute is something that we often don’t think about as part of the actual workday in regards to health and safety,” Davis says, “but it really is, for a lot of people, the most dangerous thing they do all day.”

More people on the roads means more opportunities for a collision, and when the roads are slick from rain or snow, the risks of a fender-bender rise exponentially — especially during the busy morning commutes.

Jon Davis (U-I photo)

“In our work, we actually looked at the different commute times and where we saw winter weather really playing a role in crashes began around 6:30 and didn’t start to taper off until 9,” Davis says. “So, if you can wait longer or avoid it all together, you are going to improve the safeness of your drive.”

During the height of the pandemic lockdown, 40% of Iowans were working remotely, and that number is still 25-to-30%. When the weather’s foul, Davis suggests if you can work from home, do, or at least go in later.

“If you delay your commute into work, you’re really increasing your safe drive,” Davis says. “It’s a lot less hazardous. Even waiting 30 minutes or an hour to go into work — and for those who can work remotely, you can completely remove that risk. It only takes a small amount of snow to make that drive more hazardous.”

The U-I research found workplaces that adopt policies for flexible work start times or for telecommuting will empower workers to avoid hazardous driving conditions. “We put time and resources into making work-from-home easy. People have set up home offices, learned how to use different software to do virtual meetings, so let’s make use of that infrastructure,” Davis says. “For those people who have that option, it’s great if they can exercise that option when weather is bad.”

If you have to be at work in person and the weather’s foul, remember to dress for the conditions, bring along blankets, snacks, water, have a fully-charged cell phone and a full tank of gas.