70-car snowstorm pile-up on WI highway caught on camera

A highway in Wisconsin was shut down earlier this week after 70 cars got into a huge accident during a snowstorm.

It’s not entirely clear what happened, but looking at traffic cam video (below), the road appears to be icy, and many of the drivers appear to be idiots.


I say “idiots,” because at the beginning of the video you see cars going very slowly and there not being a problem. Then you see one car, going way faster than everyone else, who suddenly hits an ice patch and causes an accident. The idiot behind him is going just as fast, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Possibly even dumber, a number of the drivers then decided to get out of the car and take pictures (according to news reports), in the middle of the road, of the oncoming speeding out-of-control cars coming right at them. After one car appears to have nearly killed them, they suddenly think better of their YouTube moment.

I’ve only had two experiences hitting bad ice while driving. One was going around 10 miles an hour in my hometown – I just slid right through the stop sign, there was zero traction. The second was scarier. I was on the highway, going around 40-45mph with everyone else, and suddenly we hit ice and my car just started to rotate to the right about 45 degrees. We were still moving forward, but my car was now pointing halfway to the right. I just kept pumping the brakes, as I’d been taught, and finally there was some traction and the car corrected. It was a really scary moment that taught me to never play games with icy conditions.

One man died from injuries sustained in the pile-up.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • Jacob Wadsworth

    The video footage is scary. I haven’t tried being in a snowstorm so I can’t tell what the people were feeling that time. It must be a very terrible feeling. – http://www.gripstuds.com/

  • mrsmarkfb

    I didn’t mean anybody specifically. I just thought it was funny that everyone claims that all the stupid people must be where they are. My dad used to think all the stupid people lived in Iowa. He moved to PA a year ago, and now he thinks all the stupid people live in PA.

  • TakeCaliforniaBack

    must be liberals, going to vote for obama…

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Our roadways may hold up, but the potholes are lethal in the spring. Riding down Hennepin in May is like riding on a railroad track.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Yes, I understand that MN has cold weather, too.

    “First, cars don’t simply drive with their tires in those narrow places. Cars change lanes, pass, make turns, and so on.”

    Not on most Vermont roads, which are narrow and twisty. One stretch of road I drive often has three SHORT passings areas over 30 miles of road. So with that example, for the vast majority of the road, one would expect to see concentrated damage from studded snow tires only in the regularly travelled area on the roadway. The numbers of cars that drive outside the normal are would be considered statistically insignificant. Yet the roads deteriorate MOSTLY uniformly across the road. The damage that does occur in the oft-travelled areas of the roadway is not the slow, grinding, sandpaper-like effect o studded snows, but deep cracking and potholes cause by heavy trucks (deliveries from the granite quarries in the area).

    Indeed the only obvious wear on roadways that can be easily and obviously attributed to studded snow tires occurs not on straightaways, or gently curved portions of Highway, but in town at heavily trafficked intersections where traffic is slow moving and turning 90˚ corners. That is where the studs have the most grinding effect.

    I don’t doubt, and I am not claiming that studded snows cause no damage at all, but it’s no where hear as bad as other factors, being primarily heavy trucking and freeze/thaw cycles. If Washington State claims that an average of $10M of damage annually from solely studded tires, then given the rates of damage I see in my state, there must be ten or twenty times that much cost caused by heavy trucks and weather.

    I am mildly surprised that Vermont doesn’t ban studs for the months that they are not needed, but “This is Vermont, I do what I want!” There would be a huge outcry if the legislature tried to do that.

  • tacosalad

    seriously? how fast are half of these idiots going?

  • Mark_in_MN

    You do understand that we have freeze thaw cycles, and times of solid deep freeze, across 6 or more months in Minnesota, too, don’t you? And several months with significant heat and humdity. Minnesota weather is brutal on roadways. Yet our roadways last much longer than a decade before being repaved. And they should. If they don’t, it’s a really bad investment being made in road construction. Really bad. And why would studded tires effect road surfaces outside of the typical tire tracks? Think about it for just a moment. First, cars don’t simply drive with their tires in those narrow places. Cars change lanes, pass, make turns, and so on. The tires go over the whole surface, not just the tire tracks. Secondly, water can get into pavement and work its way through small fractures and gaps in the material. I need not enter exactly where it become visibly degraded.

    BTW, the damage that studded tires does is real and costly. Oregon and Washington, for example, have a very specific season that they are legal. Washington State Department of Transportation says that they would like to see and end of their use. Estimates in 2012 of the annual damage caused to Washington’s highways due to studded tires are $7.8-11.3 million for asphalt roads and $10-16 million for concrete roads. (See http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Business/MaterialsLab/Pavements/Default.htm) That’s $17.8-27.3 million annual damage caused by the tires. That’s not small change. No wonder they would like to see them phased out (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/studtire/). They also have safety concerns associated with the tires and the damage they cause.

  • ComradeRutherford

    So why are people from your state always in the left lane, always with the high-beams on, always tailgating, always driving way too fast for road conditions?

  • ComradeRutherford

    Not the point I was making…

  • ComradeRutherford

    I’ve seen those studded bike tires! Gnarly!

    I run Gislaved Nordman4s – with studs! I had a set of Pirellis and a pair of Haaks, all with that same triangulated pattern. They are amazing!

    I also run a narrower tire in the winter and a fatter, larger-than-rated tire in the summer.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Stop beating down our God-Given studded snows! Vermont’s roads have little to do with those. Roads that have snow and ice on them 6 months out of the year need repaving more often. We also use vast quantities of salt, a caustic agent. I’d say that salt and ice have far more to do with accelerating the roads then the studded snow tires. For example, why would the road surface deteriorate where the tires do NOT run? Only a few roads here, very few roads have ruts worn into the pavement where the tires run.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Imported Finnish snowtires with or without studs. Called “winterdicks” in Swedish by our foreign exchange student friend. Wife is rocking the Haakpellittas with studs and 4wheeldrive, me the vattiivas and ford wheel drive. ON my bike I have a set of Nokian studs and a spare set of crazy German bike studded tires that had a fail so I have one new and one used one.

  • Swami_Binkinanda

    Idiots? But you already said Wisconsin….(ducks).

    We had quite a bit of freezing rain lately in the Anchorage bowl and we get a little bit of this kind of excitement too.

  • fletcher

    So he wants to be the Warren G. Harding of the 21st Century. Heaven help us!

  • Yes, we have a right-wing idealogue in charge. So far he’s been able to skate on several ethical questions. In at least one case, underlings have taken the fall for him.

    What’s worse, he want to be President. Heaven help up if he gets into office (though I doubt it would happen).

  • emjayay

    Well, your governor is Scott Walker.

  • emjayay

    Modern snow tires aren’t of course up with studded ones, but are pretty good. Get separate rims, put ’em on all four wheels.

  • emjayay

    On the other hand, we have snow and ice here too.

  • emjayay

    Or, you can check the speedometer.

  • emjayay

    If you mean me (NY and CT), I wasn’t claiming driver stupidity and apparent ignorance of physics was a local phenomenon. Just recounting my experience.

  • HelenRainier

    I’m originally from Wisconsin and lived in the Milwaukee area for many years. This happens every year (although not this badly) when the first few snowfalls arrive. People seem to forget that you can’t drive the way you normally do under ideal conditions when there is snow on the roads. You have to slow down and take your time.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Roads shouldn’t need repaving that often. Road surfaces, properly maintained, should last several decades. Applying a seal coat every 5-10 years helps maintain the roads, but that’s a far cry from repaving. That suggests to me that either the materials being used or the use of studded tires is significantly degrading the lifespan of the state’s roadways.

  • ComradeRutherford

    They really don’t tear up the roads as much as one would think. Vermont’s roads deteriorate evenly across the lanes and require repaving just because, very little of our road wear is caused by the studs.

    That one place on I-89 hasn’t been paved in over ten years, our roads are usually done more often than that.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Not all, cracks certainly, would be created by them. But the cracks they create or contribute to might not always be most apparent in the tire tracks. But studded tires do degrade pavement. Your example of a stretch of I-89 is an example of that. That’s why they are illegal in places like Minnesota or Wisconsin.

    Also, remember that Vermont’s topography is very different than Wisconsin or Minnesota. The usefulness and safety they provide on hills and mountains might be enough to overcome the damage they do to roadways and justify their use. Their utility in the upper midwest, which is fairly flat, doesn’t rise to the level that overcomes the damage to roadways.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “car tires with crampons.”

    Studded snows. The only snow tires I buy.

  • ComradeRutherford

    You said it, not me. I’d rather live in Vermont where the trade off is a few months of snow in exchange for kind and rational people that don’t shoot you just because they know they can get away with it.

    Anyone that chooses to live in a state like Florida has to be insane…

  • ComradeRutherford

    No, these cracks are all over the place, not just where the tires run.

    I wouldn’t drive without my studded snows.

  • Tony T

    Also, WalMart ought to figure out who that driver was and give him a safety award.

  • Tony T

    At the risk of sounding like a douche bag. I watched this thing and thought where are the 70 cars? So yes. I counted. There were about 30 that hit or touched each other. Unless there was more after the video stopped. Just sayin’. Back to web surfin’.

  • mrsmarkfb

    I’m in Iowa and everytime it rains (even in the summer) or snows, you’d think these people have never seen the stuff before. When it rains in the summer, people drive like the roads are a solid sheet of ice. It’s crazy. I don’t drive fast in the snow, but driving too slow (in the snow…I’m not talking ice) can be just as hazardous.

  • mrsmarkfb

    I see a lot of people saying the idiots are in New York or in Connecticut or in Wisconsin or wherever else they are saying. I would say they are in Iowa (I live there) or in Missouri (Ive lived there.). I guess we can agree that there are just stupid people everywhere.

  • Mark_in_MN

    And there were still a couple of idiots who just blasted past, and didn’t slow down much, if at all, until they had passed the truck.

  • Mark_in_MN

    And there are those who just think they are great drivers and can handle anything, and their arrogance leads them to not be as cautious as they should be.

    And there are those drivers who are simply obvious, and don’t really pay much attention, even in weather like that in the video.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Those cracks in the pavement might well be caused by or further opened up by the action of the studded snow tiers. They really do damage and break up pavement, which leads to small cracks that get to be bigger cracks through the freeze-thaw cycle. Minnesota doesn’t permit studded tires, either.

  • Mark_in_MN

    In this case, several in every crowd.

  • Mark_in_MN

    There were speed demons coming into the video frame almost the entire time. Some of them at least tried to respond to the situation earlier, but were going too fast to really be able to. But there were some that didn’t seem to react a whole lot until very late. The speed issue is then aggravated by the tendency of some drivers to react late rather than early (even on good, clean, dry roads this is dangerous), and not to adjust speed until they are nearly upon any traffic in front of them.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Given it was the Milwaukee area, you’re probably right. But as a general principle, I wouldn’t be so sure. Given the way some people where driving Sunday evening in the snow here on I-35W (which seemed to be unplowed, or hadn’t seen a plow in some time, at least), there are people who are beyond idiocy even in the snowiest of states.

  • LanceThruster


    Cars can take the impact much better than the human body, that’s for sure.

    Even if they were trying to assist those in cars that had collided, they still needed to ensure their own safety in extremely hazardous circumstances.

  • Hue-Man

    I remember one time I pulled off the two-lane highway nearly 3 hours waiting for the salt/sand trucks to get through – the freezing rain had made the road so slippery that I saw cars go into a slightly banked curve in the road at low speed and slide DOWN the road and into the ditch on the other side. Sometimes the maximum safe speed is ZERO unless someone has invented car tires with crampons.

    The worst, in my experience, are drivers of SUVs with 4WD – they seem to believe that their vehicle makes them invincible regardless of road conditions without realizing just how far it takes to stop one of their heavily overweight vehicles (especially if they’re driving on “all-season” tires). The other reality they ignore is that the condition of the road is the condition of the worst driver on the road – if one frightened driver with poor traction cannot make it up a hill, NO ONE is going to make it up that hill (unless they can drive over top of the first blocking vehicle!).

  • There’s always one idiot who thinks he can drive twice the speed of the traffic flow, no matter the conditions. Along with a few people who decide to follow him.

  • kurzie

    Just about every single one of those vehicles is driving too fast for conditions! They should know this in Wisconsin!

  • Yeah… that was kinda crazy. If you ever find yourself in a situation like that, stay in your car until things are safer. Or you’re just going to be another bumper on the pinball table.

  • So true

  • Aye, that Walmart truck driver did the right thing: Stop. Be visible.

  • ComradeRutherford

    We have drivers like that up here in Vermont. Their license plates say “Massachusetts” and “Connecticut” and “New York” on them.

  • Yeah, I know.

    We have some really crappy roads in Wisconsin, and getting worse. Part of it is that there’s not enough money to fix them, the other part is sweetheart deals to roadbuilders who are expanding highways when there’s no clear need to do so.

    Like the two-lane road near Fon-Du-Lac that is barely traveled, but they are expanding it to a near-Interstate class road. No need for it, but the governor feels the need to give a gift to a road constructor. I suspect that they made a rather substantial donation to one of his campaigns.

    The problem is not exclusive to Wisconsin, though. We’ve been talking about repairing and improving America’s infrastructure. Well, this is infrastructure.

  • ComradeRutherford

    My primary car is a 1997 Volvo 850, driving 50 MPH (the speed limit on almost all Vermont Roads) feels like 35MPH. My backup car is a 1996 Nissan Pathfinder, driving 35MPH feels like 50! In this case, the Pathfinder is the safer winter car because it FEELS like it’s going way faster than it actually is, whereas the Volvo feels like it’s going way slower.

  • I’ve lived in several areas of the country and traveled through most, and it’s interesting: Almost everybody will say, “Our drivers are among the worst winter drivers.”

    I think it’s because on average, people behave stupidly.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Here in Vermont our roads are damaged far more by ice getting in the cracks and expanding when it gets down to -20 than by snow tires. We have to repave long before studded snows wear ruts into it. There are a few roads where that is the case, and a stretch of interstate 89 has those. You can let go of the steering wheel and the car will stay in those tracks…

    It’s too bad that WI decided to make driving less safe in order to save some bucks on paving.

  • This happened in the Milwaukee area, in Menominee Falls. Could have had a mixture of both.

  • They outlawed studded snow tires in Wisconsin a while back. Before that, there were restrictions on what time of the year you could use them.

    The reason was that they damaged the roadways. I remember driving through Milwaukee years ago, and yes, the roads had ruts in them from being worn down by studded tires. It was very evident, and I guess it shortened the life of the roads considerably.

    Too bad. I’ve often wondered, with the prospect of self-driving cars, whether this will be a thing of the past once they get here? I have my doubts. But it would be amusing to watch the people who are bad winter drivers cussing at their self-driving cars because they are not going fast enough.

  • angryspittle

    What idiots. You might think the cheeseheads would know how to drive in snow.

  • ArthurH

    In addition to lacking common sense, there are people who believe all the guff about how their tires stick to the road in winter (never contemplating ice) or have lousy depth perception. And I know a few folks who drive SUVs who believe that because they are in the biggest and heaviest vehicles they’ll always stay on the road; and if not the other guy will suffer the damage.

  • We have that on our ’09 Prius. It’s been a godsend the times we’ve needed the traction control and anti-lock braking systems.

    And yes, if one has such on a car, the manuals all now say, “Apply steady, even pressure on the brakes.”

  • ArthurH

    When the wife of my former boss suggested they retire to Florida, he blurted out, “NEVER!!! There are too many old people driving down there!” And he was 71 at the time. As for snow in Florida, the same boss had a paperweight of the 1979 front page of the Miami News the one time the city ever had a measurable snow.

  • Yes, they are. I know, I live in Wisconsin.

    We’ve had snow every other day for about the past week. You still see people driving just as poorly on the road as you see in that video. The prevailing thinking seems to be “I have 4-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, so I’m invincible!”

    I think part if it is due to the refinement of modern cars (in addition to the stupidity of people). Really, they are smooth, quiet and do their best to insulate the driver from the road. In reality, you need feedback to let you know when the car is getting loose. Older cars were not as refined, you could feel when you are losing traction. Not so with newer cars.

    And the Wisconsin State Patrol has warned that what these people did after the crash was very hazardous as well. They have been on TV telling people that if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, don’t get out of the car unless it’s absolutely necessary. They say that if you do need to get out of the car, get well off the road as fast as you can.

    There’s one part of the video that shows people who were standing on the roadway while another car slid by so close that it sprayed them with snow. Another foot, and they’d have been toast.

    What’s sad-funny is that I hear people all the time complaining about other drivers’ bad habits in wintertime, as though “other people” are the problem. Yet riding with those same complainers, I have teethmarks in my tongue from resisting the urge to tell them “No, the problem is you!

  • LanceThruster

    I think it was too dangerous for people to venture into the pile-up on foot.

  • Bookbinder

    Kudos to the daredevils who managed to skeeter around the first wrecks, to the people who ventured out into the road to check up on the people in the wrecked cars and to the Walmart driver who stopped far enough out. Around here we tap/blink our brake lights at the first signs of a slow down to let the people behind know. The hits just keep on coming.

  • cole3244

    people don’t realize how much distance you need to stop on dry roads much less roads like these, common sense is not in high supply in humans as our politics show.

  • MichaelS

    btw, John, with today’s cars one shouldn’t have to pump the brakes any more — the anti-lock system kicks in and does it for you and much more efficiently, and the driver’s not supposed to pump the brakes anymore : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-lock_braking_system

    And I didn’t know this myself, but apparently they also have electronic stability control — this is an updated version of the anti-lock system, which brakes the wheels individually to control yaw and automatically help steer the car back into a straight line: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_stability_control

    Of course, these can’t perform miracles and in sheer ice nothing’s going to help.

  • FUFatherEisenman

    Here I thought all the crappy drivers were in Florida this time of year.

  • emjayay

    Driving on an interstate in December in upstate NY/Connecticut a couple of years ago it was below freezing and started snowing and pretty soon traffic stopped and was backed up for an hour or so. Once it got going I went by several smashed cars on the side of the road. I was amazed at how some drivers in the Northeast were so clueless about coefficients of friction in such conditions (can be pretty much zero) and the tendency for an object in motion to continue in motion. Obviously this was a lot worse.

    Maybe people in Wisconsin are even more clueless.

  • emjayay

    When the temperature is below freezing, particularly if it has been below freezing for a while or was overnight, any driver with a brain would not be driving that fast. If you suspect the traction isn’t good, give the brakes a little try and see. I think a lot of modern and high end cars have outside temperature sensors and warnings. Not mine.

  • milli2

    Don’t get out of your cars and stand in the middle of the highway people! That’s just asking for more tragedy.

  • Badgerite

    I’m thinking Milwaukee drivers. It’s almost like Chicago.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I disagree with your conclusion. The cause was NOT the ice, it was the line of drivers going way too fast for the road conditions.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I borrowed a friend’s Subaru (full-time All Wheel Drive) and I hated it! The line between having control over the car on slippery roads and having no control at all is very, very narrow. One moment you are driving along and everything feels fine, the next the car had lost all traction without any change to correct for it.

    I spoke to our local AAA tow man and he said Subarus are the single most common car he has to pull out of the ditch when it’s slippery. Not the SUVs. Where I live, Vermont, the SUV and Big-Ass Pickup truck owners know better and drive more carefully. It’s the Subarus that are the worst.

    I drive a FWD Volvo 850 with studded snow tires on it. Everyone here has two sets of rims for their vehicles, one with summer tires, one with snow tires. By the middle of November everyone has changed their tires. ‘All-Season’ tires are a joke, no one buys those. You can tell the hardcore Vermonters, because their snow tires are studded. The even more hardcore Vermonters don’t even own summer tires and run their studded snows all year long…

  • ComradeRutherford

    That lead driver needs to be charged with 2nd degree murder.

  • 1tehamawhiteneck

    Sheesh. If I did not know better, I would say that looks like Californians driving in the snow.

  • Dick

    Curling with cars

  • nicho

    One problem is four-wheel drive vehicles. People buy them and then think they’re invincible. They don’t realize that four-wheel drive will help you get going in snow, but it won’t help you stop. It’s also worthless in ice. I used to drive a four-wheel drive pickup. When I’d drive on the highway in snow, I’d be plodding along in the right-hand lane, and I’d see these SUVs whizzing along in the left lane. Sure enough, as soon as you came to a turn in the road, there would be these SUVs in a ditch.

  • I googled a few articles on the accident, one of them reported that that’s what was happening.

  • olandp

    Tell me again how stupid and ignorant we are to live in Florida.

  • Drew2u

    I’m only half-kidding with that statement.
    A few years ago I drove south through the state and went through all forms of precipitation; clear and dry flakes in the north to heavy, wet stuff in the central part, to rain south of Milwaukee. I was white-knuckling it the entire time.

  • evodevo

    There’s ALWAYS one in every crowd !

  • BKX

    I’m not so sure that they’re all idiots, with the possible exception of the first two speeddemons, who were clearly going too fast for conditions. I’ve been in a similar situation in a Michigan snowstorm before. What it looks like is that the road conditions further back were fairly reasonable, and then a major patch of black ice starts just before the camera and ends just past the pile up. To people who aren’t from the Great Lakes region, that probably looks like terrible road conditions, but to me those conditions look fairly normal for Michigan (especially Northern MI, and the U.P.) or, more importantly, Wisconsin. During the winter, we all get snow daily (less so in the lower halves of the L.P. and Wisconsin), so you just have to learn to drive at normal speeds in snowy weather. The key feature that tells you how fast they should be driving is the lanes. They’re clear. Clear lanes means full-speeds. Clear lanes with snow built up a bit between lanes means middle-speeds. My guess would be that, until the black ice, 35-50 was OK. The first two idiots were going much faster and caused the crash. The remainder of crash victims were just following too closely. The black ice is the real cause.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I’m sure John doesn’t want to hear that, but I’m certain they weren’t Minnesota plates.

  • Drew2u

    Must’ve been Illinois plates.

  • Drew2u

    In an on-going situation, fleeing one’s vehicle is the worst thing. You don’t know where it’s going to be clear from cars , even in ditches, etc.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I choose to live in the colder regions, and I would like to think I know how to drive in bad conditions. Those people didn’t have a clue. Idiots doesn’t begin to describe them. Normally, in conditions like that, I try to stay home, but if I have to go out, I don’t go blasting down the road. Looking at the clip, two of the pedestrians seem to be trying to give aid. There’s a major spin out around the four minute mark, and many people head over to help with that one.

  • Cletus

    What makes you think people are getting out of their cars to take pictures? You can’t tell what they’re doing. In an ongoing situation like this it’s best to get out of your car and get far away from it, which is what it looks like they were doing to me.

  • Indigo

    When I migrated to Florida, retired from my teaching post in North Dakota in 1996, I brought my snow shovel with me as a talisman to remind me what that’s all about. The madness of Florida politics sometimes distresses me but then I get out my snow shovel, pretend to shovel snow (or is it sh*t?) for a minute or two and all is well once again.

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