With Focus on Winter Storms, Accidents in Rural Nevada Overlooked

Winter Driving

Last week much of the country was affected by a combination of winter storm systems that grounded flights, closed roads, and turned travel into an even greater slog than is typical during the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel season. Locally, the Sierra Nevada mountains played host to two massive, back-to-back snowstorms that choked highways with slow-moving traffic. Much of the regional media’s attention has been on the snow’s effect on the major highways, leaving a spate of car crashes in rural Nevada to go overlooked.

The Headline Grabbers

Perhaps the hardest-hit in Nevada are travelers to and from the Reno-Sparks area via California. The modern Interstate 80 retraces much of a stretch of the path traveled by the infamous Donner Party, a group of nineteenth-century pioneers whose journey west was marked by miscalculation, tragedy, and reports of cannibalism. [1] Travelers to/or from the Reno area must traverse the aptly named Donner Pass, and the journey crosses from the westernmost end of I-80 in Nevada into the eastern reaches of the highway in California. As a result, travelers must monitor road conditions and travel restrictions spread across two states’ bureaucracies. One newspaper article chronicling the twin snowstorms that have “bookended” the Thanksgiving holiday helpfully provided links to both the California and Nevada road authorities. [2]

This intense winter weather is challenging enough, but the human element adds to the difficulty of traveling over the pass at this time of year. During both the pre-Thanksgiving storm and the one that followed the holiday, authorities closed the highway for several hours. [3] At times the highway must be closed because the pace of snowfall is too aggressive for the snowplows and other winter-weather infrastructure to keep up. But in the case of these two closures, the main issue was that the highways became choked with disabled cars. Some of the vehicles spun-out, rendering them immobile until they were towed or dug out of the deep snow. These vehicles became hazards to anyone trying to pass alongside them.

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Another hazard is caused by crashes, which can range from freak accidents to the result of poor choices. Chain controls are generally applied to two-wheel-drive vehicles, but four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed to drive along provided that they have studded tires or specialized snow tires. As a practical matter, many four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles get the benefit of this wave-through without meriting it; highway officials are generally overwhelmed, and visibility is poor, so often they take a driver’s word for it that the vehicle has appropriate tires. This results in a large number of vehicles on the road that lack the traction required for winter weather. In addition, many drivers mistakenly believe that four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive will prevent them from sliding off the road. Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive helps a vehicle go, but those features do nothing to help a vehicle stop. When it comes to driving in the snow, both are important. Chains or specialized tires help a vehicle gain traction in the snow or on ice, which aids in stopping.

As it happens, drivers are most often focused on going and take little heed of stopping until it is too late. One who drives over a winter pass will invariably see other cars disabled along the side of the road; often an outsized share of these are vehicles with four-wheel or all-wheel drive. Incautious drivers not only put themselves at risk – they can also lose control and slide into other vehicles, causing winter driving accidents that affect innocent and cautious parties.

The Untold Stories of the Rurals

While all eyes remain on the Sierra summit and all the traffic affected by these current storms, a spate of accidents in rural Nevada has gone largely unremarked upon:

  • A plane crash
  • Two car accidents along rural highways
  • Industrial accidents
  • A car-on-pedestrian crash

The first of these accidents occurred before the Thanksgiving holiday season got into full swing. An Idaho couple leaving an airstrip in far northern Nevada died when their plane crashed shortly after liftoff. [4] The airstrip in question was located near the town of Jackpot, which is about 50 miles from the Nevada-Idaho border. Jackpot lies about 120 miles northeast of the city of Elko and is located along Highway 93, which runs from Nevada north into Idaho. [5]

Along another rural Nevada highway, two people died when a sedan crossed the center lane and crashed headfirst into a semi-truck. The cause of the fatal car accident remains unknown, but the fact that investigators initially believed that the sedan crossed the center lane suggests that the driver of that vehicle was at-fault. The crash occurred about 15 miles north of the town of Winnemucca, along Highway 95 which runs from Nevada to Oregon. [6]

Another fatal car crash occurred along U.S. 6, a small east-west highway that cuts through the middle of Nevada and connects the small towns of Tonopah and Ely. A pickup truck rolled in the early morning hours in an accident that occurred about 40 miles east of Tonopah. Investigators believe the driver of the pickup truck was not wearing a seatbelt and may have lost control of the vehicle due to some combination of driver fatigue and slick road conditions. [7]

No matter where in Nevada you live, you should be aware of the hazards of winter driving and the importance of taking ample time and precautions when on the road. If you or a loved one are harmed in a car accident, you should contact an experienced accident attorney in the Reno or Las Vegas area, or wherever in the state you can find the competent assistance you require.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donner_Party

[2] https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2019/11/27/traveling-thanksgiving-how-check-traffic-cameras-chain-controls-sierra-passes-interstate-80-snow/4321318002

[3] https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article237918784.html

[4] https://www.kmvt.com/content/news/Idaho-couple-dies-in-Nevada-plane-crash-565378781.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackpot,_Nevada

[6] https://www.kolotv.com/content/news/Fatal-accident-closes-part-of-US-95-north-of-Winnemucca-565582122.html

[7] Ibid.

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