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Accidents on Ice, Snow or Wet Roads – Is the Weather or the Driver to Blame?

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Accidents happen. Or do they?

I will never forget a juror (who was a truck driver) advise me during voir dire (which is where the attorneys and judge normally ask questions to prospective jurors before a panel of jurors is selected to decide a case) that accidents never happen. Rather, people fail to follow the rules of the road and cause accidents to happen.

That comment hit home to me. And it made me think, is it fair to blame the weather for accidents that happen?

In Oklahoma, the law states:

"Any person driving a vehicle on a highway shall drive the same at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway and any other conditions then existing. No person shall drive any vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than will permit the driver to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead."

In other words, if you are driving on snow or ice, regardless of the speed limit, you should drive no faster than a speed that will allow you to stop without causing a collision.

I then looked at the Oklahoma Commercial Driver License Manual to see what rules commercial drivers are taught regarding driving on snow and ice. Under Section 2.6.2 – Matching Speed to the Road Surface (on page 2-15), it states:

"Slippery Surfaces. It will take longer to stop, and it will be harder to turn without skidding, when the road is slippery. Wet roads can double stopping distance. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Reduce speed by about one-third (e.g., slow from 55 to about 35 mph) on a wet road. On packed snow, reduce speed by a half, or more. If the surface is icy, reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as you can safely do so."

Thus, if the speed limit is 50 mph and you are driving on packed snow, you should drive no faster than 25 mph.

One of the BIG mistakes drivers make is think that because they are driving the speed limit, they are doing nothing wrong, regardless of the road conditions.

If all drivers would use common sense, they would understand that the speed limit is the maximum speed you should drive under IDEAL conditions. If the roads are not in ideal condition, then your speed should be lowered to a speed that will allow you to stop before striking another car or losing control of your car.

I think the truck driver that ended up being a juror in one of my cases is correct. "Accidents" do not happen. Rather, drivers who fail to consider the conditions around them, including the weather, cause "collisions" to happen.

1 Comment

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  1. Harvey McFadden says:
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    There is much debate over why so many loss of control accidents, with many varying opinions from experts and the public.
    But what if we take everything out of the equation but the car? The most common scenario involving loss of control is a vehicle traveling on an icy road and a front wheel coming into contact with a ridge of slush or hard snow and the vehicle starting to pivot out of control. We know the point at which the vehicle will start to pivot and that is when one front wheel has more traction than both rear wheels combined. 67% front weight to 33% rear weight.
    To understand how a vehicle will get to this point we need to understand that upon impact with the slush or snow weight is shifted to the front of the vehicle making the front of the vehicle heavier and the rear of the vehicle lighter. The calculation for weight shift is (G force, percentage weight of the car x height of centre of gravity) divided by the wheelbase. So a half G force on an average car is (50x20”) /110” =9% weight transfer.
    This means a 50/50 balanced vehicle with an encountered force of 50% of the weight of the vehicle (.5G) will transfer 9% of its weight with a resulting weight ratio of 50+9 / 50-9 or 59/41.

    So to reach 67/33 the following forces have to be present to destabilize vehicles with the following weight ratios;
    1. 50/50 –.95G
    2. 55/45 –.70G
    3. 60/40 –.42G
    4. 63/37 –.26G
    5. 64/36 –.19G
    6. 65/35 –.11G
    7. 66/34 –.06G

    This is a static calculation, not taking into effect wind or slope of the road surface and the fact that on a front wheel drive, a slowing force on one front wheel causes a speed up effect on the opposite wheel. So the force required to destabilize will be less than what is shown.