Posted in on March 26, 2010

How to Stay Safe Driving in Colorado Rock Slides

Anyone who commutes to and from work knows there are certain disadvantages to a long, daily drive. It uses up a lot of gas, puts miles on your car, and can cost more in preventive maintenance and auto repairs. A work commute can be even more stressful in bad weather.

Heavy rain means less visibility, slower speeds, and more time spent on the road. Snow can slow traffic and can be dangerous if ice builds up on the asphalt. If enough snow falls, highways may even be closed temporarily. Weather like that never hits without warning, though, and there’s time to make other arrangements, whether it’s taking an alternate route, or working from home. But living in a mountainous region brings other risks, such as rock slides, and even avalanches. Taking a few precautions will help keep you safer on the road if you hit a rock slide in Colorado.

Preventive measures are taken to make mountainous roadways as safe as possible, but over time, the land is affected by rainfall, wind, and other environmental effects, and it slowly erodes and shifts. Eventually, something will give way. With luck, it’s just some pebbles and dirt, but sometimes, when conditions are just right, several tons of earth and rocks can come barreling down a mountain, and only come to rest when they reach a flat roadway.

One such major rock slide occurred in March of 2010. About 20 boulders measuring from 3 to 10 feet across hit Interstate 70, but these were the small ones. Some of the boulders that fell onto the highway weighed up to 66 tons, and were as large as semi trucks. Luckily, there were no serious injuries, and no vehicles were damaged. The rock slide caused 17 miles of I-70 to be closed while the heavily damaged roadway was repaired, and the unstable rocks and land above the slide area could be addressed.

How can you stay safe when driving through areas where Colorado rock slides or avalanches may occur?

  • Obey speed limits. Mountain roads often wind through land and wooded areas. If you come around a curve and encounter boulders, trees, or tons of earth on the road, you may not have enough time to stop if you’re speeding.
  • Properly maintain your vehicle. If you commute through a potential rock slide area, you depend on your car more than most people. Be sure the brakes are in working order, and promptly repair burned out or broken head or tail lights.
  • Don’t use your cell phone while driving. This is good advice while driving on any road, at any time, but it’s especially important on winding mountain roads where hazards can lurk around every corner. Stay alert and keep your focus on the road to avoid the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone.
  • Try to avoid driving next to large trucks. Unfortunately, semi-trucks are involved in a higher percentage of accidents on mountain roads in Colorado. It’s unclear whether this is because of increased speeds, or unchained tires in winter, but it’s best to give them a wide berth.
  • Familiarize yourself with an alternate route. If it’s the time of year when an avalanche is more likely, or a rock slide has just occurred and the land may still be a bit unstable, have a detour mapped out so you can still get where you need to go without taking any unnecessary risks.

If possible, driving during daylight hours will also help keep you safer on those roadways, but keep your cell phone charged just in case you do need to call for emergency assistance.

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