Winter Weather May Be the Cause of a Fatal Lake Shore Drive Accident

Winter Weather May Be the Cause of a Fatal Lake Shore Drive AccidentIn the early hours of the morning last Thursday, Raphael Schaeffer was traveling home from a jam session; his younger brother, also a musician, was in the SUV with him. Just after 3:00am, Schaeffer’s car hit the shoulder on N Lake Shore Drive. He was ejected from the vehicle, and succumbed to his injuries as he was being transported to the hospital. His brother suffered minor injuries but survived.

It was snowing that morning, and ABC New 7 reports that the roads were slippery. No one knows what caused Schaeffer to lose control of the SUV, but the winter weather seems to be the most likely cause at this time.

In 2024, the coldest days in Chicago were January 14-17. A polar vortex whipped through the country that week, according to the National Weather Service, and with it came the snow and freezing rain. Though the weather predictions for this upcoming week seem warmer than expected (If you can call 38-41° “warm”), we’re experiencing some freezing rain today, and we just pray that no other family has to go through what Raphael’s family is going through right now: the loss of a loved one because of a weather-related crash.

Is snow more dangerous than rain?

It’s hard to say. Snow results in a smaller number of fatal car accidents than rain does. In Illinois in 2021 (the most recent year available in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database), there were 1,210 fatal accidents. Of those accidents, 84 occurred while it was raining, and 25 occurred during snow and sleet. So when it comes to fatalities, rain is three times as deadly as snow.

However, we can’t say snow is less dangerous than rain, because people behave differently when driving in these conditions. Think about it: it rains all year long, so most drivers are used to navigating in those conditions. And when it comes to driving, familiarity breeds contempt; a lot of folks don’t treat rain as the danger that it is, because they’re used to it.

But snow – that’s a different story, even here in Chicagoland. We’d bet money you have at least one friend or family member who thinks nothing of driving in rain but won’t even step foot out of the house when it snows. Snow on the roads makes people nervous, and it should: it can hide potential dangers like potholes or debris. It can cause your tires to lose traction. It can make it difficult to see out of your windshield (especially if it’s bitterly cold and you’re fiddling with the heat in your car because you can’t feel your toes but you still need to see).

Of course, all this is true of rain, too – drivers just seem to “forget” that the same exact dangers exist.

How does snow affect roadways?

Both snow and ice “reduce pavement friction and vehicle maneuverability,” per the Federal Highway Administration. This happens because the snow compacts and becomes harder and icier. Thinking about making a snowball: you smash the snow together to get the shape, and in doing so, reduce the fluffiness of the snow. The same thing happens when you drive; the tires compress the snow.

Now, when snow hits the road and melts, it’s because the road is warmer than the snow. But eventually, that roadway may start to cool, and the snow that’s been melting – especially if it’s insulated by newly fallen snow – can become icy. (This is why bridges freeze first; the cool air gets to all sides of the bridge, so there’s nothing – like the ground – to insulate it.)

In short, it’s the ice that’s a danger, not the snow. But the snow can turn to ice based on how we treat the roads and how we travel on them.

Protecting yourself while driving in winter weather in Chicago

The best way to avoid a car accident in Chicago during the snow is to just stay off the roads. We understand, however, that this isn’t always possible, and that sometimes drivers are taken by surprise. We also know that driving around a day or two after it snows can also be dangerous, and you can’t always predict how other drivers will behave.

But there are some things you can do that could potentially reduce the risk of a crash and/or injuries.

  1. Invest in warm driving gloves and put on socks. It seems silly, we know – but we weren’t joking about messing with the heat. You need to keep your defroster running when the temperatures are low, and wearing warm socks and gloves can help you avoid switching back and forth.
  2. Check your tires. Balding tires already have reduced traction; that will be exacerbated by driving in snowy or slushy conditions. Good tires at the correct air pressure can help protect you. (They’ll also help you get better gas mileage.)
  3. Wear your seatbelt. We don’t care if you’re the only driver on the road and you’re traveling at 10 mph: put your seatbelt on. Do it every time. Make sure your passengers are buckled up, too. In the event of a crash or a rollover, your seatbelt is what will keep you from being ejected from the car.
  4. Buy a window breaker/seatbelt cutter tool. You can get them at home improvement stores, online shops, and usually in your local pharmacy. If you crash into a body of water or a ditch, you need a way to get yourself loose. Remember to hit your side windows, not your windshields. Windshields use a different type of glass and they don’t break easily.
  5. Turn on your crash alerts. Most phones have this kind of alert system now, where it will automatically send out a distress call after an accident. If you have an online system in your car (like OnStar), make sure it’s also set up for the alerts.
  6. Pair or turn off your phone. Speaking of your phone, put it away. If you absolutely need to make phone calls – NOT TEXTS – while you drive, make sure it’s paired with your car or that you have a hands-free system for turning it on and off. Just using speakerphone isn’t the same, and it isn’t as safe.

All of us at Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers want all of you to be safe this year. Our hearts are breaking for Schaeffer’s family and friends, and for the music community as well; we don’t want anyone else to experience the type of loss they are. So please: stay safe out there, no matter what the weather is.

Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers is a personal injury law firm serving the greater Chicago area. We represent victims of negligence, including people injured by other drivers. Call or contact us today to learn more about our services.