Recent rains create spin for local motorists

Police attribute spate of accidents to drivers unused to wet roadways


The past week's rainy weather not only brought an end to the region's drought, but sent police and tow trucks into action as motorists readjusted to driving on wet pavement.

"It was like people just forgot how to drive in the rain. And when you get that kind of rain after a while without it, you get oil on the road, and the leaves make it slippery, too," said Westminster police spokesman Major Dean A. Brewer.

Although figures have not been compiled, area police reported a spike in accidents.

A handful of the accidents that police say might have been weather-related were fatal -- including one involving a 46-year-old Carroll County woman who plowed into a parked tractor-trailer last Friday on Route 140.

Meanwhile, police are continuing to investigate the extent to which last Saturday's heavy rainfall might have contributed to an eight-car pileup that resulted in the death of a 52-year-old Westminster man.

In that accident, an Isuzu box truck driven by Rene Alfonso Huezo, 20, of Memphis, Tenn., rammed into the back of Dreu Timothy Bowman's Jeep Wrangler, which had stopped for a traffic signal on Route 97 at Magna Way in Westminster. The impact drove the Jeep into the back of a Chevrolet Silverado, police said. Six other cars were damaged.

"We have found no mechanical defects with [Huezo's] truck," Major Thomas H. Long of the Carroll County Sheriff's Department said yesterday. "Weather may have been a factor, but ... we still think driver error was more of a factor."

Police said Huezo has been charged with negligent driving and speeding.

Most of the recent crashes, however, resulted in no more than bent fenders, police said.

After a nearly six-week stretch in which there was no significant rainfall, the region was hit by a torrential downpour that brought nearly 7 inches of rain over the weekend to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, breaking the previous two-day record of 5.3 inches set in 1922, according to the National Weather Service. Since the beginning of October, the area has seen 7.26 inches of rainfall, including nearly a week of drizzling rain.

The state police barracks at Golden Ring in eastern Baltimore County recorded 122 crashes over the weekend. And Sgt. Rob Moroney, a state police spokesman in Pikesville, said, "We think we had more than usual in the past week."

During an extended dry spell, Moroney said, "People get used to driving faster than they should. They don't slow down and they don't leave enough stopping distance." When it rains, "we generally do have a spike in crashes."

But a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of Arlington, Va., a nonprofit highway safety research group, said most serious accidents happen in good weather.

"People stay home or slow down when the weather is bad," said the institute's Russ Rader. "People always call if we had a snowstorm to see whether crashes go up ... and they don't. If you look at serious crashes, they are more likely to occur when the weather is good.

"You may see more fender-benders on snowy or rainy days, but in terms of crashes that are serious, where people are injured or killed, these are more likely to happen in good weather," Rader said. "That's mainly because more people are out driving."

He pointed to a 1996 study by the University of North Carolina that looked at selected types of crashes.

"It found drivers appear to compensate for increased risks, so adverse-weather crashes are more frequent but injuries are less severe," he said.

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