Some area roads prone to skidding

Thomas Kempen, Contributing Writer

Drivers should take care when traversing Johnstown’s winding roads this winter.

Unsafe driving practices and inclement weather could lead to a costly or fatal accident, said PennDOT Safety Press Officer Pam Kane.

“We don’t have dangerous roads, we have driver-safety issues.  If the roads are wet and snow-covered, slow down.  Nineteen percent of all car crashes occurred during slippery ice or snow conditions,” said Kane, citing PennDOT records for 2006-2010.

Certain roads pose additional hazards for drivers, said Mike Dudek of Johnstown’s Dudek Insurance Agency, singling out U.S. Route 22’s Chickory Mountain area as particularly treacherous for drivers.

“Chickory Mountain’s worse in winter because of the substantial change in elevation and temperature, which causes freezing rain,” Dudek said.  He also mentioned Broad Street in the city’s West End, Ohio Street connecting the Moxham neighborhood to Geistown and Cramer Pike and State Route 403 through the Conemaugh Gap.

“Cramer Pike has a nasty wind three-fourths of the way down that’ll blow cars sideways a full lane.  One year there was a microburst there that twisted the trees around seven or eight times, treating them like toothpicks.  There was actually a fatality 10 years ago, but generally people know to drive cautiously there.”

State Farm Agent Ted Sendry named Eisenhower Boulevard, Bedford Street and Ohio Street as particularly bad roads, but said accidents were not PennDOT’s fault.

“Ice storms and hills cause problems.  If you’re driving through the mountains and an ice storm strikes, you’re not just gonna stop.  If you’re going too fast, you might rear-end somebody.  That’s why you heed blinking brake lights on downhill slopes,” Sendry said.

Suppes Ford’s Director Bob Moss also named Ohio Street a hazardous road, but said he was more concerned with the effects of winter driving on car components.  Moss advised drivers to have enough fuel in their tank to avoid freeze-ups and talked about salt solution damage.

“The salt spray they use on the roads is a year-round problem.  It gets under your car and corrodes the external components, and most people don’t wash their cars in winter.  I advise people to take the time and wash their car’s underbody,” Moss said.

Moss said people often come to Suppes Ford in spring because anti-skid material had damaged their cars, but said there was little that could be done about it.

“A good set of mudflaps can take care of it, and a bug shield might help, but if you’re driving on the highway you’re bound to get sprayed with chips.  My biggest recommendation for winter driving is to get four good winter tires.”

Even with dangerous winter weather conditions, Pennsylvania auto insurance rates are not particularly high.  According to website, comparison of the highest car insurance rates in the U.S., Pennsylvania ranks below the national average in 31st place.

There seems to be no strong trend toward northern states paying more to cover accidents caused by icy roads, with Louisiana and Oklahoma in the top 3 and Main and Vermont in the bottom 3.  Dudek said winter insurance claims weren’t particularly prevalent.

“We don’t really see an increase in claims during the winter.  Each season has its own problem that causes wrecks.  People are idiots for the first snow and don’t have tread on their car.  In the summer, idiots text and drive,” Dudek said.
Rather, states legislation seems to be the root of higher or lower auto insurance rates.  Dudek credited legislation with Pennsylvania’s lower rates.

“In 1974, Pennsylvania changed their auto insurance policy.  Medical bills were paid by the injured person’s own insurance provider, even if the other person was at fault.

“The process was simplified, and auto insurance providers could reduce costs because there was less administration.”

State Farm agent Matt Cashdollar said that insurance claims are even throughout the year, crediting low rates to Pennsylvania’s rural structure.

“Cities have more weather-related accidents because people have to commute.  Pennsylvania has 2 1/2 major metropolitan areas and the rest is rural, so we’re very middle-of-the-road,” said Cashdollar.

“We have bad weather in Johnstown but good drivers.  People know to stay off the road when it snows, but things can get bad when people rush to go shopping.  My advice is to get good tires, take your time, and give more distance to stop and start.  It’s usually the stopping that causes problems.”