It is still one of the most horrific, deadliest multi-vehicle wrecks in California highway history. As winter drew near in November of 2007, more than 108 cars, trucks and motorcycles piled into each other on a stretch of Highway 99, south of Fresno. Two people died and 41 more were treated for injuries at the scene or in local hospitals as the result of the carnage. While it was eventually determined that a drunk driver started the crash, it was a heavy mixture of winter rain and dense fog that was to blame for so many drivers getting involved. Even while firefighers and rescue workers arrived at the front of the scene, they could hear more cars crash into the rear ends of other vehicles, nearly a quarter mile away.
Winter fog is a serious matter on California roads
While California roads are typically dry most months of the year, winter months between November and February can be treachurous. On stretches of roads in higher elevations, the sun isn’t likely to dry off the precipitation and communities can stay socked in by dense fog for days. In Costa Mesa and other crowded communities in the Los Angeles metro area, weather-related accidents increase greatly as distracted, inattentive and buzzed drivers lose their bearings and decrease their reaction time. Injury accidents ranging from fender-bender whiplash to head-on collisions causing catastrophic injuries and death become a common occurance.
Under California law, drivers are required to turn on their headlights in the event of rain, but many don’t. And while most late model cars include special running lights, few drivers remember to turn them on in dense fog. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that many drivers don’t even know how.
It is a good axiom never to count on other drivers to obey the law or even use common sense. In bad weather conditions and poor visibilty, your best tactic is to follow the laws yourself, but take extra safety precautions as a defense against those who don’t. Here are some basic tips for driving on wet roads and through dense fog:
Reduce speed: Never underestimate the amount of time it takes to bring your car to a stop. Your reaction time may be dulled during poor weather and your actual breaking distance will increase. Reduce your speed to take both reaction time and breaking distance into account.
Increase distance to the front: Fog and rain make it more difficult to judge distances between your headlights and the car in front of you. Give yourself an additional car length or two.
Maintain distance to the sides: Road spray from cars in the next lane can cause serious visibility problems. Don’t try to squeeze your car or motorcycle between vehicles in order to keep moving during a slowdown. Accept the fact that you are going to be late due to the weather. Remind yourself that it is better to be 10 minutes late than never.
Keep lights working: Make sure your headlights, taillights, directional signals, emergency flashers and breaklights are all in working order at all times. Any broken light is a violation of California traffic laws.
New windshield wipers: What is more expensive? Replacing your windshield wipers when the blades are worn out, or getting your body and car repaired because you didn’t see well enough to stop in time?
The tragic news story from 2007 is hardly the only case of a multi-car pileup on California roads during wet and foggy weather. After coming to a safe stop, even the best drivers can be hit from behind and pushed into the car in front of them at the scene of an accident. If an accident happens immediately in front of you but you are not involved, immediately put on your emergency flashers and pull your car out of harms way onto the shoulder or onto a side street. If you are a witness to the crash, do not leave the scene until instructed to do so by police or emergency responders.
Financial damages for injuries and property
Multi-car accidents are usually started by one negligent driver but may involve many drivers who share ultimate liability for negligence. Make sure you get the legal help you need from a law firm with experience helping people protect their rights in these complex cases.