Sensible Road Salting in Winter Weather

Sensible Road Salting in Winter Weather

Poor weather is the third most common cause of crashes, and winter weather congestion affects 70 perfect of U.S. and Canadian roads.1 Thousands of cities and states rely on salt to keep our roads safe – something they’ve been using since the 1930s.

Salt is used on roads in two ways:

  • Reactively, dry salt is applied to remove snow and ice bonded to roads and sidewalks
  • Proactively, salt is spread prior to the formation of a bond between ice and the roadway or sidewalk

There are many reasons why salt should be used to clear snow and ice, but safety is the number one factor. Studies show that road surface condition is the single biggest safety factor during winter weather. A 10 percent improvement in surface friction on the road results in a 20 percent reduction in crashes.2 Road salt is a proven and cost-effective solution!

According to a Marquette University study, when using salt during winter weather, there was an 87 percent decrease in accidents for two lane roads and a 78 percent decrease on freeways.3

The need for sensible salting

Highway deicing accounts for approximately 42 percent of total salt consumption in the United States, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey.4 Given the environmental impact that salt runoff into freshwater sources can have, it’s important to only use the amount of salt that is needed.

Besides safety, there are three practical reasons to be strategic about the amount of salt applied to roads and sidewalks: cash, conservation, and control.

Cash

From an economic standpoint, by only using the amount of salt needed, agencies can save money on salt usage. Additionally, highways are vital arteries linking commerce and our society, but only if they are open and safe. If roads were allowed to become impassable during these winter weather events, the economic impacts would include loss of wages, sales, and tax revenues. The proper use of salt effectively provides improved access and safer driving conditions during and after winter weather events.

It’s important to apply road salt early during a storm when it will be most effective to melt snow and ice and prevent them from sticking to the pavement.

According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 544 million vehicle hours of delay are due to wintry road conditions each year. Given this exorbitant economic impact, the long-term payoff of adequate snow preparations more than justifies the expense: deicing pays for itself within the first 25 minutes after salt is spread and during the first four hours following salt application, the direct benefits to road users are $6.50 for every $1.00 spent on the operation.5

Conservation

Responsible and sustainable salting and adequate storage reduce the risk of runoff into lakes, streams, rivers, and groundwater tables. Salt-spreading equipment must be properly calibrated and machine operators adequately trained. Additionally, enclosed open storage areas can mitigate unwanted environmental consequences.

A joint comprehensive study by environmental researchers at the University of Waterloo and Environment Canada examined groundwater monitoring data and found that chloride levels were reduced by half when best practices were employed.6

Calculating the amount of salt to use is about as easy as forecasting the amount of snow. However, a salt usage calculator to determine how much to apply and routine spreader equipment calibration are critical to ensuring only the correct amount is applied.

Control

You cannot manage what you do not measure. For example, if you have not calibrated your spreaders, you are not measuring how much salt you are applying to the roads. Better operational management improves efficiency and effectiveness, benefiting your agency, your community, and your environment.

Learn More

The Essential Minerals Association works with the Professional Snowfighters Association to assist agencies and snow removal professionals with information and resources to help them apply salt sustainably. Learn more at professionalsnowfightersassociation.org.

EMA also released, “Sustainable Road Salting – Environmental  and Economic Considerations,” a technical discussion paper about how and why salt continues to prove itself as a cost-effective material that helps keep roads safe for drivers and passengers and open to commerce.


  1. Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2019. ↩︎
  2. L. Fu and T. Usman, Safety Impacts of Using Deicing Salt, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo, National highway Users Alliance, 2021, https://www.highways.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Deicing-Salt-Study-FINAL.pdf ↩︎
  3. David Kuemmel and Rashad Hanbali, Accident Analysis of Ice Control Operations, published in Transportation Research Center: Accident Analysis of Ice Control Operations, Marquette University, 1992. ↩︎
  4. Salt Statistics and Information, U.S. Geological Service, 2023. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/national-minerals-information-center/salt-statistics-and-information ↩︎
  5. David Kuemmel and Rashad Hanbali, Accident Analysis of Ice Control Operations, published in Transportation Research Center: Accident Analysis of Ice Control Operations, Marquette University, 1992. ↩︎
  6. Assessing the Efficacy of Current Road Salt Management Programs, University of Waterloo, July 26, 2010. ↩︎