In the last three weeks, seven people have been killed in two separate pileups on state highways. These tragedies are preventable with a little common sense behind the wheel.

Beginning with the understanding that winter driving conditions can be dangerous, these accidents — including a 60-vehicle crash on Interstate 80 before Christmas and this week’s fatal turnpike crash in Western Pennsylvania — can happen in an instant.

These crashes are often spurred by quick changes in the weather. A sudden snow squall can not only reduce visibility to near zero, it can create slick roads in a matter of moments. According to AAA, “fog, mixed with snow, ice or rain could create a trifecta of driving problems: obstructed field of vision, diminished tire traction and, ultimately, the risk of losing control of your vehicle.”

These are regular conditions in Pennsylvania, even on our interstates where drivers often refuse to slow down to appropriate speeds when the weather quickly deteriorates.

Driver error or reckless driving, even in good weather, can cause havoc on the highways as well. According to federal investigators, a bus carrying 56 passengers lost control soon after passing a truck on the turnpike, which triggered a crash that killed five and injured 60 others early Sunday morning.

“Every winter, we do see pileups occurring on the highway and they are all preventable,” said William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs at the American Automobile Association (AAA) National Office. “Driver error is the most common cause of crashes.”

AccuWeather offers several tips for driving in these rapidly changing conditions: 

n Slow down if you can’t see the road well. Reduce speed to account for low visibility and varying weather conditions.

n Adjust speed for conditions. In ice and snow, you lose about half of your tire traction, so lower speed by half to maintain the same amount of traction as if it was dry out.

n Create space around your vehicle. Tailgating a vehicle in front may not leave enough room or time to steer around or slow down to avoid a crash.

n Do one thing at a time. Hit the brakes, then turn, then accelerate. Don’t overload the tires’ ability to grip the road.

n Brake and steer with fluid movements. Don’t pull on the wheel.

They may seem simple, but they can, in some cases, save dozens of lives in an instant.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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