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Archive for Monday, April 29, 1991

THE FEARS FOR FOG

April 29, 1991

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Fog may tiptoe in on little cat's feet, as some literary genius opined, but it also can wear a shroud, have a fatal visage and wield a deadly scythe.

Those motor vehicle operators who have never been trapped in serious fog may find it difficult to believe the things that happen because of the absence of visibility on a street or roadway.

Periodically, we read about massive pileups on American freeways due to fog conditions which cut the vision of drivers. There are accidents in waterways where radar fails to be adequate and conditions prevent sighting of nearby vessels. Fog, despite sophisticated equipment to ``see in the dark,'' strikes terror in the hearts of many airplane handlers.

Time was when the ``fog'' given off by the local Farmland production site on Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence was a major culprit in curtailing visibility. It took a multi-vehicle smashup which resulted from "clouds" over the highway to bring about measures to minimize chances for accident. Signs at the location now warn motorists about the fog problem. When conditions become severe, vehicles with flashing lights are parked along the road to warn motorists to slow down and be more careful. There have been no major crashes since that program was instituted.

But fog is a frequent cause of costly, injurious and fatal accidents, and it should always be treated with the utmost respect.

A recent news report says visibility sensors being installed at the nation's airports may be modified to detect highway fog that contributes to hundreds of traffic fatalities each year.

``This is a potential tool that could be used along the highways,'' said James Bradley, a chief scientist with the National Weather Service, at a hearing sponsored by the National Transportation Safety Board on fog-related highway accidents. ``Given (Bradley's) presentation, I think we can make significant improvements,'' said George Reagle, director of the NTSB's Office of Surface Transportation Safety.

``If you look at the data that we've seen, the number of (fog-related) fatalities averages close to 700 per year,'' Reagle said.

Figures recently compiled for the NTSB show 6,219 people died in fog-related accidents on U.S. highways from 1981 to 1989. According to the statistics, there were 783 fog-related highway deaths nationwide in 1989. That's up from the 622 recorded in 1988, and the most since 800 fatalities were recorded in 1981.

From 1981 to 1989, California had the most fog-related fatalities at 783. It was followed by Texas, 534; Florida, 478; Illinois, 250; Ohio, 245; New York, 230; Michigan, 228; Georgia, 213; Tennessee, 201; and Louisiana, 194. Nevada and Hawaii had the least two fatalities each. Kansas recorded seven fog-related fatalities during that time period.

Fog needs to be treated with fear and healthy respect, on the land, the sea and in the air.

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