According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, each year, 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on the snowy, slushy or icy pavement with 15% occurring during snowfall or sleet. Over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually. Every year, nearly 900 people are killed and nearly 76,000 people are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet.
As South Carolinians, many of us are not accustomed to driving or even walking in the snow. With the unfamiliarity comes injury and in this article, we will discuss the most common winter-related injuries and the ways to avoid them in South Carolina.
What are the Types of Winter-Related Injuries in South Carolina?
Winter-related accidents produce various types of injuries, which can range from mild and easily treatable to severe and long-term. Some of the resultant injuries from these winter accidents most commonly include:
Head injuries. Head injuries occur during the winter as a result of any number of incidents. Most commonly, falling on ice and hitting your head on the pavement can lead to a potentially serious brain injury. Should this happen, seek immediate medical treatment. A brain injury can be difficult to treat, and often the symptoms will be not noticed until long after the injury has occurred.
Back injuries. Snow removal is one of the most common causes of a back injury during the winter months. The following tips to help make the snow removal process as painless as possible:
- Invest in an ergonomic shovel. A shovel with a curved handle or adjustable handle length can take much of the stress off your back. A lightweight plastic blade will also help reduce the amount of weight you are required to lift.
- Use ergonomic lifting techniques. Bend at the knees and lift with your leg muscles, not your back. Do not try to lift loads that are too heavy and walking the shoveled snow to the deposit location rather than trying to toss the snow.
- Whenever possible, use a snowblower instead of a shovel. When used correctly, a snowblower can take much of the stress of snow removal off your back. Use the power of your legs to propel the machine forward, keeping your back upright and knees slightly bent.
Muscle sprains and ligament strains. Also known as pulled or torn muscles, muscle sprains and ligament strains occur when muscle tissue or tendons are stretched too far and suffer damage as a result. Ankle injuries are the most common, but other commonly sprained areas include the lower back, the hamstring muscle, and wrists. Strains and sprains are categorized by degree, with first degree being the mildest, the second degree being moderate, and third-degree being severe. Mild injuries commonly result in little more than pain and swelling, while more significant injuries can result in lifetime disability and loss of movement.
Herniated discs. A herniated disc, sometimes called a ruptured or slipped disc, can also result from a slip and fall injury. Most herniated discs affect the lower back, but all areas of the spine are subject to these types of injuries. In a herniated disc injury, the soft disc separating the spinal vertebra becomes damaged. That damage can be minor or severe, but even minor injuries can cause significant pain. People who suffer lower back injuries can often mistake muscle and ligament injuries in the lower back area for herniated discs.
Compression Fractures. For seniors who suffer slip and fall injuries in icy weather, one of the most common injuries suffered is the compression fracture. Compression fractures occur to the vertebrae, and like other broken bones, are very painful. Seniors with osteoporosis are most at risk for developing compression fractures. Though relatively uncommon, spinal cord and nerve damage are possible in severe cases. Such damage can lead to long-term or permanent disabilities.
Hypothermia. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 degrees; hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 degrees. When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs cannot function normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to death.
How Can I Avoid Common Winter-Related Personal Injuries in South Carolina?
Slip and fall injuries. Slip and fall are the most typical winter-related injury. Most of us have seen someone take a nasty spill on slippery winter ground. Oftentimes, the ice is difficult to see, making the chances of winding up on your rear endless. Black ice is especially dangerous. Black ice is a thin coat of transparent ice. Its transparency is a result of camouflaging with roads and sidewalks, making it nearly impossible to see.
The following tips are to help ensure your chances of avoiding slip and fall accidents in icy and snowy conditions:
- Walk slowly and carefully. Wear boots or other slip-resistant footwear.
- Use special care when getting in and out of vehicles.
- Watch for slippery floors when you enter any building or home.
- Try to avoid carrying items, or walking with your hands in your pockets; this can hamper your ability to catch yourself if you lose your balance.
- Watch out for black ice.
Driving. Whenever you are traveling during inclement weather, be sure someone knows where you are going and at what time you expected to arrive. It is also a good idea to keep emergency supplies in your car in case you get stranded. Supplies may include several blankets, matches, candles, a clean can where you can melt snow into drinking water, a first-aid kit, dry or canned food, a can opener, tow rope, booster cables, a compass, and a bag of sand or kitty litter to spread for traction if you’re stuck in the snow. If possible, travel with a cellphone. Run the car for 10 minutes each hour to warm it up.
Other suggestions for driving in wintery conditions include:
- Increase stopping distance. When driving on slick roads, you need at least 3 times more distance to stop. Always make sure you have enough space between you and the car in front.
- Give yourself extra time. Trips can take longer during winter weather than other times of the year, so give yourself some extra time to get to your destination.
- Road hazards. Watch out for hazardous sections of roadways, including bridges, overpasses. Shaded spots on roads often ice before other parts of the road.
- Keep your windshield and windows clear. Ensure the car’s roof has been cleared of snow. Snow and ice left on the roof will inevitably fly from the car posing a threat to other drivers.
- Don’t use cruise control. Using cruise control when driving on a slippery, snowy surface can make it hard to react in time.
- Check your tire tread and pressure: Good tire tread and properly inflated tires are essential to staying in control on slippery roads.
- Gas. A fuller gas tank prevents your car’s gas-line from freezing.
- Don’t slam on your brakes. In winter weather, sudden braking often leads to skids that are uncontrollable.
- Check the exhaust pipe. Double-check that your exhaust is clear of snow or debris before getting on the road. A blocked pipe may cause carbon monoxide gas to leak into your car while the engine is running.
- Drive with your lights on. Keep your lights on low when driving in the snow.
- Stay at home.
Wintery weather brings hazards to which many of us are unaccustomed. Everyday activities are conducted with added vigilance to personal safety and the safety of others. If you have been injured in a weather-related accident, due to no fault of your own, contact our injury attorney at the Lewis Law Firm. Together, we will get you the compensation you deserve.