Winter Driving Hazards: Who’s At Fault When Icy Roads Cause An Accident?

Car Accident in the Snow

Pittsburgh is known for its brutal winter weather. Every year, heavy winds, snowdrifts, and ice storms combine to create miserable driving conditions. When mixed with the region’s steep hills and winding roads, driving through Pittsburgh can be treacherous. 

The conditions are similar across Pennsylvania. In 2017, PennDOT recorded:

  • 3,142 accidents and 23 fatalities due to ice and ice patches on the road
  • 5,790 accidents and 18 fatalities due to snow and slush on the road

The accident count is so high that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration frequently ranks Pennsylvania among the deadliest states for winter driving. The biggest causes of accidents the NHTSA found were:

  • Poor visibility
  • Slippery conditions
  • Improper vehicle maintenance (worn tires, excessive ice on windows, etc.)
  • Snow left on another vehicle flying off and hitting another vehicle 

When we talk to clients who have been in a winter weather-related accident, the question they ask is always the same: Who’s at fault when ice and snow are involved?

Snowy Street

Understanding Who’s At Fault: Hitting Ice

Let’s say you’re driving through a dark Pittsburgh suburb after a snow storm. You’re driving at a reasonable speed, and you slowly apply the brakes as you approach an oncoming stoplight. The driver behind you applies his brakes as well, but he hits a slick patch of black ice. Instead of slowing down, his car slides forward, slamming into the back of your car. 

In most cases, the other driver would be held at fault. Although the black ice was the factor that caused the crash, most courts would say the other driver should have driven more carefully based on the conditions. Driving safely in this scenario would mean: 

  • Leaving more space in between your car and the other vehicle.
  • Driving slower than usual to give yourself more reaction time.

Although the other driver may feel exempt from wrongdoing because of the ice involved, you could still hold him liable for your injuries and the damage to your vehicle. 

Understanding Who’s At Fault: Maneuvering Out of Danger

Let’s try another scenario in which an accident occurs with an obstacle that must be avoided. Say you’re driving through the same neighborhood under the same circumstances, but this time a small child jumps out into the street after you pass. The driver behind you swerves to left, but he runs onto a patch of ice in the process. As he skids out of control, he swerves back into the right lane and slams into the back of your vehicle.

As before, the other driver will generally be the one at fault. Although the child pushed the other driver into an evasive maneuver and the ice propelled him forward, the same rules apply: You must drive according to the conditions. Although he may not have expected a child to run into the street, he should have been cautious in a residential neighborhood. Like before, blaming the accident on the ice won’t work—he was driving in poor conditions and should have driven slower.

Avoiding Winter-Related Car Accidents

Safe driving ultimately falls back on you, the driver. To stay safe in winter conditions while you’re behind the wheel:

  1. Slow down. A speed limit of 45 MPH means you can drive up to 45 MPH under ideal conditions. In wintery weather, slow your vehicle to maintain control over the car. Avoid reacting to pressure from other drivers to accelerate to unsafe speeds.
  2. Leave ample space between you and other vehicles. The PA driving manual recommends five seconds between your car and the vehicle in front of you. If visibility is poor or the roads are slick, leave more space. Remember: When traveling 60 MPH, you’ll need the length of a football field to come to a complete stop under ideal conditions. Winter conditions require greater distances to reach a stop.
  3. Don’t try to start or stop moving suddenly. On slippery surfaces, these sudden changes in motion can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. 
  4. Be extra cautious on bridges and ramps. Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world. Since bridges freeze faster than normal roads, you must be careful when driving through Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh and the rest of western Pennsylvania encounter hazardous driving conditions every year. If you must venture onto the roads, the proper preparation and focus will ensure you and your passengers safely reach your destination.

If you’re in a winter weather-related accident, contact Dugan & Associates. We will ensure you receive the protection, justice, and compensation you deserve. 

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