Those who argue that too many Michigan motorists don’t know how to properly drive in snow may pay special attention to a new report that finds our state among the worst for fatal crashes in wintry weather.

According to two University of Georgia researchers, Michigan has five counties ranked among the top in the U.S. for automobile fatalities blamed on winter precipitation from 1975 to 2011.

They are: Wayne County, 3rd, 250 deaths; Kent and Oakland counties, tied for 5th, 169 deaths each; Genesee County, 9th, 141 deaths; Macomb County, 14th, 110 deaths.

The population of a county is an obvious factor within these numbers but it’s worth noting that wintertime fatal accidents throughout northern Michigan, where driving in snow is routine, are quite low.

The study also indicates that the results do not align with the areas that receive large amounts of snow. Overall, the places with the most fatalities stretch from Chicago and across the Great Lakes areas of Michigan and western New York and western Pennsylvania. However, Wisconsin, Minnesota and especially Iowa have very few counties where more than a few fatalities a year occur due to winter precipitation.

In contrast, a couple of counties in northern Arizona and northern New Mexico, where driving in the snow is not common, both rank above the national average.

According to the Vox news site, the study looked at crash deaths related to snow, ice, sleet and freezing rain. The Georgia researchers relied upon 36 years of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that provided details on more than 30,000 auto fatalities, plus the road conditions at the time of each crash (see map here).

In the big picture, the numbers are not particularly high – only 17 counties across the nation experienced 100 or more fatal accidents – but one of the researchers noted an obvious lesson:

Take heed when meteorologists or police issue travel warnings, Alan Black told Vox. “It’s no different than taking shelter from the tornado; staying home might save your life.”


Photo: WWMT screenshot/Eagle Towing — 40-car pileup on U.S. 31 near Muskegon on Dec. 29.