In hindsight, I could be called smart ... or overly cautious. You decide.

I was looking forward to a friend's annual holiday party one Saturday night in December, but knew I had to drive almost 50 miles to get there. About midday it started to snow and kept on snowing until early evening. By then I had already cancelled. The reminder of having almost been run down a few years ago while changing a flat tire in the snow had made me wary of the white stuff.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, the snow stopped. The plows came out and the roads were clear to the blacktop.

Mr. Right

Being the Type A personality that I am, I started to regret not having gone to the party. I berated myself the whole night -- well, maybe not the whole night -- but awoke to find that perhaps I was right all along. Although the snow had stopped, the cold had iced over the roads later that evening.

And, as I soon found out from watching the news, a car carrying a local couple skidded under an oncoming train. The husband died and the wife wound up in critical condition.

The moral of the story: When in doubt, don't go out, unless it's an emergency.

A meteorology professor at New Hampshire's Plymouth State University, where it almost always snows, recently did a study showing that more people in this country die in weather-related accidents than from hurricanes and tornadoes.

'There's a killer on the road'

Or as the lyrics to the song "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors say, "There's a killer on the road." And it's the weather, which accounts for about 7,000 deaths each year -- or more than a fifth of all fatalities.

Of course, there are all different kinds of weather, not just snow. We can also have fog, rain or sleet which causes black ice to form on roadways either at night or before sunrise. Or wind, which causes falling leaves to make pavements slick and pushes RV's and semi-trucks into each other.

Sometimes it seems as though Mother Nature is out to get you and a crash is unavoidable. When a burst of lake-effect snow suddenly surged across Indiana's Interstate 94 midday recently, it suddenly cut visibility to 10 feet ahead while both cars and 18-wheelers sped along at 65 miles per hour.

By the time drivers saw brake lights "it was already too late," said one witness. It caused a 46-vehicle pile up, including 19 semis. Three people died and many others were trapped in their cars for hours in the cold before torches and the Jaws of Life would free them.

These kinds of crashes are considered newsworthy, but most weather-related smash-ups go unacknowledged because, like the fatal accident that happened where I live, only two people were involved.

'Focus on big events'

We tend to "focus on big events" so it usually means that when one or two people die it doesn't mean that much, one meteorologist told USA Today last year. In fact, these accidents aren't even included in the National Weather Service's toll of annual deaths, said the newspaper.

But it is important to insurance companies because they have to pay for the damage. And while insurers keep these accident statistics private so as to gain a competitive advantage, we would be better served if they called attention to the causes of these fatal crashes, as well as how they can be prevented.

So in the meantime, it's up to us not to take unnecessary risks, particularly when "the weather outside is frightful." It seems like winter will be with us for quite awhile.