Law enforcement and towing business owners say the vehicles compounded storm-related traffic and safety issues, and suggest drivers be more prepared the next time a round of low snow comes through.
“If a lot more of the people were prepared ... that would have probably saved a lot of the problems that happened,” said Nick Norton, a spokesman with the California Highway Patrol office in Jamestown.
The storm hit about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. By late evening, snow had accumulated well below 2,000 feet in the western ends of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. Traffic pileups and standstills were reported throughout the evening and into Wednesday morning as vehicles slid off, or could not proceed along, the treacherous roads.
With cars stuck on major thoroughfares, Norton said many motorists abandoned their vehicles with the intention of picking them up later. But any car parked in a roadway, or even on the white line, can be towed, he said. Law enforcement officials trying to clear the road made that call frequently.
Norton said they don’t want to tow the cars. But when the vehicle is in the road, it makes it tougher for snow plows to clear the way and creates a hazard other drivers have to avoid in an already-dangerous situation.
“When the plows can’t get by, it makes those roads blocked longer. It’s a huge issue for safety reasons,” Norton said.
Towing businesses were working through the night responding to the calls. George Ahern, of Ahern’s Towing, said his drivers picked up about two dozen vehicles, often from situations where multiple cars were abandoned in the same area.
His drivers also responded to calls for assistance from drivers and other situations as well.
Most of the vehicles had been retrieved as of Thursday, and Ahern said people have been generally understanding. But many of them could have avoided impound with a little more preparation.
“They were everywhere,” he said of vehicles stuck in the snow. “When you know the weather is going bad, don’t go to the store … stay home and rough it out.”
Scott Selesia, owner of Vic’s towing, said his drivers performed similar work.
While the Mother Lode’s lower elevations do see snow storms on occasion, Selesia said this one was unique because so much snow came down so quickly.
“You hear it’s going to snow tomorrow at 1,000 feet, you think ‘Yeah right,’ ” he said. “There are a lot of unhappy people … but we don’t go out looking for people to tow.”
Norton suggested those who find they can’t continue driving pull off the road completely. Unless a car is turned over or a visible hazard, law enforcement will generally leave it alone if it is pulled completely off.
For those who are stuck and can’t pull off, call the tow truck yourself, he suggested. You’ll have to pay a towing fee, but it’s cheaper than $50 or $100 more to get it out of impound.
Norton also suggested drivers be prepared. Have chains with you if needed for your vehicle, and also be aware of who to call through insurance or roadside coverage ahead of time if you need to call for a tow.
“We have to keep the roadways safe for everyone,” Norton said.