Slick streets: Police caution students in icy conditions

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Baylor and Waco police agree ­— if there’s ice on the road, it’s best just not to drive at all. After attending to 75 ice-related wrecks in the Waco area from Sunday evening into Monday morning, police urged residents to stay off the roads whenever the temperature is below freezing.

None of the 75 wrecks were reported on campus, though some were near the new stadium construction. There was ice on the top floors of all the parking garages on campus, and Baylor police blocked these levels off.

“Central Texans are not used to driving in those kinds of conditions,” said Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, Waco police public information officer.

The high for today in Waco, according to the National Weather Service, will be 47 degrees Fahrenheit with a 20 percent chance of rain, and the high for Wednesday is 61 degrees Fahrenheit with a 10 percent chance of rain.

Swanton said he appreciates schools and businesses opening late on days where roads are icy.

“There were several businesses and schools that issued late starts Monday morning,” he said. “That really helped us as a department. Our city people were able to get out and start surveying the roads and got some of those bridges sanded before traffic got heavy. That really played a part in us not having a whole bunch of crashes Monday morning.”

Swanton said although avoiding icy roads is preferable, drivers should take extra caution if it’s crucial that they get on the road.

“You’re not going to have control of a vehicle if you start sliding on ice,” he said. “There’s not much you can do to recover from that other than to be going slow enough to begin with that hopefully the car will correct itself before you hit anything.”

Chief Jim Doak, Baylor Police, said drivers should have both hands on the wheel in icy conditions and should not be texting or talking on the phone.

“When sliding on ice, never jerk the wheel trying to correct the car,” Doak said. “All that does is exacerbate the spin. Try to turn into the direction of the slide, which will allow you to perhaps get a grip, if you’re lucky.”

Doak and Swanton both warned of the dangers of “black ice” on the roads. Black ice was the cause of many of the Sunday and Monday wrecks.

“You can see when the roads are covered in snow, or if we get a freezing rain or sleet in pellets,” Swanton said. “You can start to see it accumulate on the roads. However, most of black ice occurs when that snow or sleet starts to melt, and freezing conditions refreeze it on the road. It makes the ice pretty transparent. The term ‘black ice’ comes from the look of the asphalt that it’s on. You don’t realize that the ice is there till you’ve hit it and your car is spinning around.”

Swanton and Doak said bridges and overpasses are most likely to ice over.

“The cold comes from underneath the bridges and freezes them so much faster,” Doak said.

Police noticed Sunday night that bridges over water, such as the Waco Suspension Bridge and others over the Brazos River, became iced over first, Swanton said. Warm water rises in a fog from the water below and freezes on the bridges.

Doak said it’s even more dangerous to ride bikes or motorcycles on icy roads than to be in cars.

“Your chances become far greater to crash,” he said. “You don’t have the stability of a car. Once you lose it on a bike or scooter, you’re going down. In a car you have the chance to spin and perhaps avoid hitting things. But if you lose traction on a motorcycle or scooter and you start going down, hopefully you have a helmet on. Same thing on a bicycle.”