TAMPA — Almost a year ago, dense fog contributed to a 70-vehicle series of pileups on Interstate 4 that killed five, injured 38 and closed a 14-mile stretch of the road for more than a day.
But on Monday, a day when heavy fog again haunted parts of Polk County highways, Florida Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol officials reported little change in the way they help motorists navigate fog hazards.
A study examining fog-related crashes is due by February or March, said department spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons-Adente. The findings should help the agency identify the best locations for installing fog detection devices. The lighted, informational signs that operate now over Tampa Bay area highways are expected to be functional in Polk County by May, she said.
But short of that, Clemmons-Adente said, the same precautions that were in place earlier this year are those in place now.
In Florida, conditions are particularly ripe for fog during late fall, winter and early spring.
Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol's Troop C, which oversees Central Florida, said the Jan. 9 pileup prompted agency supervisors to get training in how to use weather forecasts to help them assess the risk of crashes and the need for public advisories.
But Gaskins said drivers need to do their part during foggy conditions — slow down, leave plenty of room between cars, be cautious.
"I think (the I-4 crash) got a lot of publicity because of the numbers involved, but we also had a lot of drivers who weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing," he said.
The Highway Patrol is still investigating two of the crashes that happened during that foggy stretch — one that involved 24 cars and caused four fatalities, and a second that involved 10 cars and left one dead.
Gaskins said the patrol is issuing 12 noncriminal traffic citations to drivers involved in that morning pileup.
"When you see fog, sleet, whatever, you need to reduce your speed," Gaskins said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Anthony Reyes said he recommends using low-beams, staying off the cell phone, turning off cruise control and always being prepared to stop.
"Every second counts when it comes to fog," Reyes said.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.