On days like Wednesday when snow and slush turned roads slick, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials and the State Patrol were once again telling motorists to slow down and respect the conditions.
It’s the message they deliver over and over when adverse weather moves in. Yet time and time again, drivers don’t heed the warnings and bad things happen.
Earlier this month, the driver of a semi traveling a highway speeds lost control on icy Hwy. 55 near Barnes Avenue in Inver Grove Heights and careened into the ditch, narrowly missing a state trooper’s squad parked on the right shoulder. A trooper’s dashcam caught the dramatic action.
Tragedy was averted on Jan. 2 as one of the troopers who had stopped to assist three separate motorists who had slid off the highway saw the out-of-control big rig and radioed his partner who was a few hundred feet ahead of him. The second trooper was able to pull his squad ahead just far enough to get out of the way by the wayward semi. Nobody was injured.
That is not always the case. Since 2008, more than 190 squad cars stopped on the side of the road with lights flashing to assist with everything from tire changes to crashes, have been hit. Those collisions have resulted in 53 troopers being hurt, said Lt. Tiffani Nielson.
Already this year, three squads have been hit, including the most recent on Jan. 9 when trooper Jacob Anderson suffered a concussion when his patrol car was struck on Interstate 94 near Broadway while he was investigating a crash. Two days earlier another squad was hit on I-35E at Jefferson Avenue in St. Paul. In that case, the trooper who was at a crash scene was not hurt.
State law requires that motorists move over an entire lane when emergency vehicles are stopped and lights are flashing.
The side of the road is a risky place, Nielson said.
“Unfortunately those risks turn to reality more often than anybody would like,” the patrol said in a recent blog post tackling the topic. “If conditions are looking bad, you can always stay home, safe and cozy. The Minnesota State Patrol has to be out there no matter what, making sure the rest of us are safe.”
In addition to slowing down, the patrol reminds motorists to wear their seat belt and drive with headlights on when precipitation is falling.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768