Winter Vehicle Strandings: Drivers Must Prepare to Avoid Getting Stuck in Heavy Snow

As the peak season for snowfall approaches, there is concern that heavy snowfall may cause large-scale strandings of vehicles on roads. Prior preparations should be thoroughly made, including closing roads early and installing winter tires and chains.

From Sunday to Monday, when the typical winter pressure pattern strengthened, there were a number of cases of vehicle strandings due to snowstorms in Hokkaido. The central government and highway companies had called for caution, but the snowfall exceeded expectations.

Strong cold air is expected to continue to flow to Hokkaido and the Sea of Japan side of Honshu. In recent years, unexpectedly heavy snowfall in a short period of time has been increasing. Caution must not be diminished.

In many cases, vehicles are stranded because expressways and national highways are closed and vehicles making detours become concentrated on a single road.

During heavy snowfall in December last year, up to 1,000 vehicles were stranded on a national highway in Niigata Prefecture, and it took 38 hours to clear the road. This was due to the concentration of vehicles attempting to use the national highway because it ran parallel to an expressway that had been closed to traffic.

In January this year, a vehicle-stranding incident occurred on the Shin-Meishin Expressway for up to 28 hours. The surrounding arterial roads were closed, but the expressway company hesitated to close the expressway in an effort to maintain the main artery connecting Tokyo and the Kansai region.

It is undeniable that the lack of coordination among road administrators and delays in making decisions on road closures led to the spread of problems. Road administrators should strengthen information-sharing and close roads, including service roads, to traffic when heavy snow is expected.

Changing drivers’ awareness is also important: In February 2018, about 1,500 vehicles were stranded on a national highway near the border of Fukui and Ishikawa prefectures when large vehicles without tire chains got stuck.

Driving on snow-covered roads with normal tires is illegal and subject to penalties, except in Okinawa Prefecture. When driving on snow-covered roads or heading to snowfall areas, it is an ironclad rule to install winter tires and to carry tire chains and snow shovels.

When a vehicle is stuck for a long time and buried in snow, exhaust fumes may flow into the vehicle, or fuel to use the heater may run out. Such situations endanger the lives of drivers and passengers. It is necessary to prepare such items as warm clothes, food and portable toilets in case of emergency.

When there is a possibility of road closures due to heavy snowfall, it is best to refrain from nonessential driving.

Trucking companies, shippers and consumers also bear a heavy responsibility. In the event of bad weather, it would be best not to stick to delivery schedules. Everyone involved should be flexible enough to consider canceling or rescheduling deliveries. This includes shippers and consumers, who should be willing to tolerate delays at such times.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2023)