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Posted on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Commuter's nightmare: Light snowfall leads to 79 crashes on Ann Arbor-area roads

By Cindy Heflin


Hannah-Maria Jacques works to clear a sidewalk on Cambridge Ro ad near Baldwin Avenue Friday morning.

Melanie Maxwell |

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comments from Washtenaw County Road Commission Director of Operations Jim Harmon.

An overnight snowfall didn’t amount to much in terms of inches, but it caused havoc on the roadways Friday morning. Drivers slid and crashed into each other at an unusually high rate throughout the morning.

Washtenaw County dispatchers counted 79 crashes on the roads, including two involving school buses and several involving multiple vehicles. Michigan State Police dealt with 14 just on Washtenaw County freeways, said Sgt. Mark Thompson at the Brighton post. Fortunately, none of the crashes involved serious injuries.

About an inch of snow fell overnight in the Ann Arbor area.

“When you get that little bit of snow, it gets so slick and people don’t realize that,” said Sean Gleason, fire chief in Pittsfield Township. Firefighters there responded to five crashes this morning.

The Washtenaw County Road Commission launched its full fleet of 46 trucks at 4 a.m. to scrape and salt roads, director of operations Jim Harmon said this afternoon. As the morning progressed, more snow fell, creating slick conditions. Once accidents occurred, the freeways became congested, preventing drivers from clearing the roads, he said.

He said laying down salt before the snow fell would have been a "complete waste of money." Traffic and winds would have blown it off the road, he said. Conditions last night and this morning were also not appropriate for using brine, a salt and water mixture, on the roads, he said.

City crews around Washtenaw County were also out to salt and plow. Jeff Fordice, director of public works in Saline, said truck drivers worked most of the morning clearing city streets.

Harmon, as well as police and firefighters, said much of the problem was caused by people driving too fast for conditions.

“Maybe we just got used to Michigan being a warm climate state,” said Derrick Jackson, spokesman for the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office. “Maybe people just forgot how to drive.”

For updated forecasts and conditions any time, check's weather page.



Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 6:46 a.m.

We need "at fault" insurance so these folks have to pay for the damage they cause. If you rear end someone due to inattention or incompetence you or your insurance should have to pay the price.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Wagner Road appears to be some sort of cut-off point for road treatment or plowing because Jackson Road is ALWAYS clear WEST of Wagner. Is anyone able to explain why this happens and why this is in any way acceptable? While sitting at the traffic light you can see the mess up ahead, and must mentally prepare (or put vehicle into 4WD) for the first of many ann arbor driving challenges. Once you physically cross the Wagner intersection going towards town the road conditions instantly turn into a free-for-all no man's land. Lanes disappear under the snow and the area near Weber's is lard slick and even more dangerous what with the I-94 merge point at Webers Inn. Have I ever seen this stretch clear and navigatable? Nope. This (just one of many) very obvious total lack of snow removal west of Wagner Road has been going on for YEARS and I am hoping the new guy in charge deems this unacceptable. In fact, I hope he sees many of the long time ongoing snow travel problems and orders some very badly needed changes.

People's Choice

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

i will definitely steer clear of that part of Jackson, thanks for the heads up. I usually cut across to Liberty to get into town. It's not that bad, a few curves, a few hills, but pretty straight, and not too much traffic. Drive safe out there : )


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I get people right on my bumper, especially on the freeway or faster roads. I just think to myself... scr*& 'em. I'm staying safe and they can do what they want. They touch my bumper, I'm calling insurance and getting a new one, and the police with a full description when they pass me. I'm not driving faster and more dangerously just because the person behind me is an idiot. It's more dangerous to drive at a higher rate of speed than just about anything else. For those of you who worry you'll get tapped, sliding off the road at a slower speed can be a far less dangerous than when you are going too fast and slide off. I've never heard of anyone I know getting hit by another car in these situations. I saw a car balanced on it's side once... not joking. Stay safe and let the jerk behind you stew until he can pass you somewhere safe. DON'T let yourself get pushed into dangerous driving.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

Two words: tailgating and speed. I wonder about the brine though. Canada and upstate New York use it extensively before snow events.

say it plain

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

I think I'm seeing UM use it too, and it works, it works, it works... why don't we use it?!


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Very astute for to do a story again that they knew would generate lots of hits. It is refreshing to see that most of the posters today are blaming the ones at fault. And that is the drivers.

tom swift jr.

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

People don't "forget how to drive", that comment is a bit condescending. The truth is people CHOOSE to drive poorly. Let's put the blame where it belongs.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Said Tom, reproachingly . . .


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I am getting older, but isn't this article recycled every year? It appears the comments are also.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

The high schools need to have a snow tardy policy that the students understand so they don't drive fast and get in accidents on the way to school when it is snowy.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 10 p.m.

This is the first time I've ever heard your suggestion, but it makes sense. Perhaps you should send your suggestion to the school board.

Que escandaloso

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

Since you bring up the subject of education, why not teach our youth to wake up and leave earlier when weather forcasters predict a difficult commute? Let us not forget, having a driver's license is a responsibility, not a right. An incentive some A2 parents should consider, "Wreck your car and you pay for the repairs or ride the bus." Unlike many other parents in my neighborhood, I find it irresponsible and disturbing to reward a 16 year-old with a new car without ever having done anything to earn it. For those who would rather blame the teachers who dare to mark your children tardy when they are late, why not teach your own children these life lessons so someone else doesn't have to?


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

I'm not sure logic is appropriate when discussing school policies.

Walid Yassir

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 11:06 a.m.

Accidents in Ann Arbor that are not caused by pedestrians crossing at crosswalks? No Way! This is the city council's fault! Its the Mayor's fault!

Jaclyn Snellgrove

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:26 a.m.

I live in Jackson county and they actually announced this year that they can only do the bare minimum road clearing this season. That being said I commuted from Jackson to the west side of A2 for work this morning via Mich Ave and saw no accidents, drove 40mph and saw every other driver following the " winter road rules". A little patience is all it takes.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:06 a.m.

So, if conditions weren't right for salt or brine, what did the road commission do at 4 am? Plowing doesn't start until 4" falls. Obviously a lot of people experienced untreated roads and the number of accidents was extreme for just an inch of snow. The accidents are not all attributable to speeding and distractions. Plenty of people drive carefully and slowly, but when the road is not treated with ice or sand or modern chemical mixtures that they use in other cities such as Minneapolis, for example, then accidents are not the fault of the driver. It was simply not that cold last night or this morning and salt does work in the mid-20's, which is what the temperature was. The road commission is making it's usual excuses.

Mike D.

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

A car with proper ice/snow tires car start, drive, turn, and stop safely in the snow. This is the only developed country in the world where people think it is acceptable to drive in snow without snow tires. Europeans understand this. Canadians understand this. Here, people spend silly money on oversize rims but not on the tires, which are the single most important thing determining emergency handling in poor weather (even more important than all-wheel drive). If you have crummy all-season tires, please drive very slowly or stay the heck off the roads. From personal experience, I recommend the Michelin X-Ice Xi2 and the Continental ExtremeWinterContact. I have a set of each on my two cars and the difference is like night and day, especially when you need to stop on ice or packed snow.

Jaclyn Snellgrove

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:39 a.m.

I have driven on all season tires in Michigan winters for 10 plus years and never had a problem or had trouble driving on snow/ice. Having the appropiate tread depth is the most important part. That is just my personal experience though.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1 a.m.

You can never drive too slowly in on snow. I say cars skidding while turning in a parking lot @15 mph.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 9:57 p.m.

Drive 15 mph on a main road and I'd tail-gate you!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:51 p.m.

Glad to to see it wasn't just me but others that observed that while driving today it was the other drivers and not necessarily the road conditions that was the problem.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:12 p.m.

This is what happens every year when we have the first real snowfall with bad road conditions because people just seem to forget they live in Michigan...wishful thinking I guess.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.

Here's an idea.............when it snows try testing your brakes as you begin your drive out of your neighborhood. At a low speed, you will be able to control your slide (if it happens) and you will have some indication of what the rest of the roads might be like.

paul wiener

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

I would never have imagined that people who live here and/or grew up here could be such poor - dare I say stupid? - drivers in these conditions. It's extremely scary for those of us who aren't.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

"He said laying down salt before the snow fell would have been a "complete waste of money." Traffic and winds would have blown it off the road, he said. Conditions last night and this morning were also not appropriate for using brine, a salt and water mixture, on the roads, he said." Than what were those 46 trucks doing out there at 4am? People reported here that the roads hadn't been touched at 7:30 am. Maybe the road commission needs to go back to using some sand like counties up north do. All that overtime and no road maintenance done? I don't buy it.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.

Well when I saw some on I94 they were blading the lanes off at 4:30 this morning, I followed one most of the way to A2..


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

Hmmmmmm. Did we forget how to drive in snow or ice? Are we in a hurry? Was this an unusually heavy snowfall? Are the streets left untreated for hours on end? I think that three out of four above are true.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

Good thing Ann Arbor doesn't get lake effect snow. I'd be scared to see what would happen then! Maybe they should live on the west side of the state to see what real snowfall is.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:14 p.m.

We may be the smartest city, but that doesn't mean we know how to drive, does it?


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

Smart doesn't equate to common sense!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10 p.m.

I have an SUV. I love it. I also left 12 minutes earlier than normal. I also drove slower than usual and didn't have to break hard as I left a safe distance from the bumper in front of me. (and I don't use the phone while driving) I did have cars riding my tail all the way to work though. I would just ask that everyone would slow down and give yourself and extra 10 mins to get where you are going.

Que escandaloso

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Exactly! I also drive an SUV and have been since 1992. I finally switched over because I moved to this city and got sick of all the idiot drivers. In my first year, I was involved in two accidents, neither of which was my fault. When my car was totaled in the second accident, I bought my first SUV. Some may find it amazing, but I haven't been in an accident since then. I get so annoyed by all the drivers in those small cars tailing me because I'm trying to drive safely for the road conditions. Don't you realize you will slide right under my bumper if I have to brake suddenly? What does it matter anyway? I'm the one who's going to drive away while your car is being towed.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10 p.m.

Is this for the snow that so many ridiculed as not being likely to happen ? Or that forecasting winter storms isn't important news ? Thought so. I guess all of those in accidents may have different opinions.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

I didn't notice any salt on the roads (Ellsworth, State, and I94 at about 7:20am) until I got to Wayne county this morning. Washtenaw County roads were very slippery. I saw one plow truck (parked in a driveway off Ellsworth) and zero salt trucks. Once I hit Wayne County, the roads were fine. I realize Wayne County got less precipitation than Ann Arbor but, in my opinion, they still did a better job of taking care of their roads.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:44 p.m.

This can't be! Our approach to road treatment is superior to that of other counties. I guess all of the firemen were out observing people driving fast. I guess all of the parked salt trucks were observing people driving fast too.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

The roads always improve when you get to the county lines. Strange, isn't it?


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

A good investment - the web GPS tracking system for snow removal vehicles. It sure did help directing salt trucks to needed roads.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

As you go farther east the snow and ice was much less. I barely noticed anything on the east side today.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:59 p.m.

jordan, I noticed and thought the very same thing!! I commute to Telegraph & Maple and usually take I 96 to Telegraph and boy what a difference-- the roads were great east of I 275. M 14 is terrible and scares me....and yes, I know how to drive in this stuff and have been doing this commute for 11 years. Given the snowless winter thus far, I would have expected an enthusiastic crew out there getting these roads in good shape this morning- apparently not!

Ivor Ivorsen

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

Be careful!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

Seriously?! Come on people! Why do we go through this every dang year?! Oi vey.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

People need to follow proper precautions to include but limited to; snow tires, safe speed and safe distance from other vehicles. If you fail the above I do not feel sorry for you, in fact you deserve to learn the hard way.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

"Maybe people just forgot how to drive."...I see way too many examples of people not knowing how to drive safely when conditions are good; why I would expect them to drive any better with snow and ice on the roads? Can anybody really say that they're surprised...except that maybe there weren't MORE accidents reported?


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

I drove west last night and I can say first hand that it was difficult to maintain control at 55mph. The last 10 miles or so I was going 45 mph and of course every other driver out there was passing me. But not only do I like to be safe, those new cable guard rails west of AA scare the hell out of me. It's no longer a soft snowy landing if you depart the interstate!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

SUV's make great toboggans - as today shows. Ever try to turn or stop a toboggan? 4 Wheel Drive means the SUV will slide in all 4 directions at the same time!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

he he


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:28 p.m.

Luv that last remark!!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

A little fuzzy why the plows in AA, which had 2" or 3", didn't use their blades?


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.


Basic Bob

Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

Unfair! They make me shovel at one inch.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.

They don't plow until it snows 4". It's on the city of AA website.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

The wife said she was driving into work at 5:00 this morning at about 35 mph when a truck behind her her started flashing his lights onto bright and dimming back ank forth so she pulled into a parking lot and he went flying past. Having a big fourwheel drive must think he can stop quicker thathan a 2 wheel drive, wrong.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

As I was driving north on the US-23M-14 w curve, I notice a large all wheel drive pickup truck pointed the other direction and on it's side in the ditch. I just wished people would slow down and give each other room. Many a pickup trucks have blinded me in the rear view mirror because they don't think the weather conditions apply to them.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:08 p.m.

I think I would have reduced my speed to 25.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:44 p.m.

What comes around goes around and the trucker will eventually see his in a ditch someday.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

Those are the types you'll see a little ways up the road rolled over in a ditch. Last time it snowed and there was black ice on the highway we saw quite a few of them in the ditch...all SUVs and pick-up trucks.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

There are actually a lot of these trucker types out there that don't care about others and do this a lot.... very annoying and only wish there was a policeman there to catch it first hand.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

2 word solution: SLOW DOWN.

Audion Man

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

If you try to drive at a speed that respects the poor conditions of the road- you are rewarded with an SUV (with retina shredding lights ablaze) riding 0.5mm from your rear bumper.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 3:10 a.m.

Yes, I have had this happen when I drive the speed limit under good conditions. I refuse to speed for any reason, but huge SUVs and pick up trucks will ride the rear bumper with high beams. Doesn't work for me, however, and I never speed up. Very dangerous driving behavior, however. I have occasionally pulled over and they roar by, good for them. I'm not paying for their gas.


Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 1:18 a.m.

Carolyns photo looks like she was in one of these accidents today (I'm just saying this in jest I did want to point out that flipping the mirror doesn't always help the glare that comes from the side mirror. I've had quite a few headlights in my eye this way


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

Just flip your mirrors up and/or out and you no longer have a problem with the glare. The unnecessary tension created by someone on your bumper is another story.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Yup - and I dare one of them to hit me. They can go the you know what around.

John of Saline

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

And probably lots more minor bumps unreported. I grazed a mailbox today.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

"Maybe people just forgot how to drive" says it all. Slow down (don't crawl but don't exceed the speed limit either), don't tailgate, give yourself plenty of time to stop. I've lived here almost 20 years and have yet to go off the road in the snow...and I am not a great driver, just cautious in bad weather.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

When there is snow and/or ice on the roads, it's not the time to be in a hurry. People need to realize that, and unless you leave at least an hour earlier than your normal departure time, you're going to arrive late; if you choose to rush, you're likely to end up in a ditch or worse. It's also not the time to be yakking on the phone, texting, checking your email, or programing your iPod or GPS. JUST DRIVE. Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

No excuse for poor driving, but I think sometimes people don't thing the roads are bad if there is school and the buses are running.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

That is because the buses know how to drive on this stick. Otherwise, it is the ones who forget how to drive in this that cause the problems in the first place. Slow down and leave early if you are not sure how the roads are.


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

If you are over 18 and have a Michigan license plate on your car, there is no excuse for not knowing how to drive in snow and ice.

Lica Straub

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

You crack me up! So I guess just being over 18 and in Michigan automatically makes everyone good drivers.... in the snow no less? HAHAHA Just think of all the applications for your thinking! We'll all get bank accounts and automatically be good at managing our money! Tons more great applications....ahh if only it was true!


Fri, Jan 13, 2012 : 8:15 p.m.

You couldn't be more correct sir