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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
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Ice and Snow in Alabama – Should you Drive?

4 comments

With all of the wintery weather this year, along with all the crashes, I thought it might be a good idea to let you know what the law is out there when you are driving in such conditions. Would you be able to recover compensatory damages if someone slid into your vehicle and caused you damage, or would you be liable to someone if you slid into them and caused them damage?

The Supreme Court of Alabama has held:

When a driver loses control of his vehicle on a road that is slippery with water or ice, the mere fact that his vehicle skids into another driver’s lane does not make him liable as a matter of law. Harris v. Brewer, 487 So.2d 252 (Ala.1986); Guthrie v. McCauley, 376 So.2d 1373 (Ala.1979); National Biscuit Co. v. Wilson, 256 Ala. 241, 54 So.2d 492 (1951).

Basically, what the cases say about this subject is that you must prove that the actions taken by the driver caused him to skid, i.e.: he braked improperly, he was speeding, etc. If you cannot show any improper action on the part of the driver who skidded, she will not be held liable.

So, what does that really mean? Well there is an Alabama statute which governs this issue (ambiguously of course):

Section 32-5A-170

Reasonable and prudent speed.

No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. Consistent with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a safe and appropriate speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.

(Acts 1980, No. 80-434, p. 604, §8-101.)

Based on this statute, if the roads are icy and snowy, you must drive prudently. What is prudent? This may require expert testimony, but you know that the speed limit is the maximum speed you can travel under good conditions, and if you know these special weather conditions are present, you must travel at a safe speed under those conditions, and you must operate your vehicle safely – don’t jam on the brakes. In other words, it’s a factual case-by-case determination.

I think it could be argued that if the weather forecasters are advising you to stay off the roads, and you choose to ignore the advice, it could be shown that you assumed the risk of getting out there and getting hit. On the flip side, you could also argue that the person who hit you shouldn’t have been on the road, but that works against you as well. If the road is officially closed, and you choose to get on it, you will be out of luck if someone hits you.

Final answer: stay off the roads in these conditions unless it’s an absolute emergency. Why take the chance? Trust me, if an insurance company can get out of paying for your damages, they will do it.

4 Comments

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  1. Sheree says:
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    Always amazes me that people will make unnecessary trips when the roads are slick from ice/sleet/snow. Even if you (the driver) have a 4WD and experience in snow, you still can’t drive on ice. And there’s always “the other car” that you can’t control.

  2. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thanks for the comments Sheree. I agree 100%. I worry about my driving and “their” driving. I prefer the time at home to enjoy my family as opposed to risking damage and injury. They don’t tell you to stay off the roads just for the hell of it.

  3. Harvey McFadden says:
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    When looking at the cause of loss of control accidents it is advisable to look at the predictability of the vehicle in question. Everyone is aware that pickup trucks with a weight ratio front to rear of 60/40 need the best tires on the rear to prevent the back from sliding out in poor conditions.
    What is not evident too casual observer is cars that have weight ratios more unbalanced than pickup’s. With a weight ratio of 65/35 a small car can weigh as much as a limo on the front and have only half as much weight on the rear. At this point the condition and the tread depth of the rear tires become’s critical to prevent the vehicle from getting sideways resulting in rollover or severe direction change.

    There are some good videos on the Internet showing how important the rear tires of a vehicle are. Also the Society of Automotive Engineers paper 2002-01-0553 shows any decrease of tread depth from new of the rear tires can contribute to an accident.

  4. Harvey McFadden says:
    up arrow

    When looking at the cause of loss of control accidents it is advisable to look at the predictability of the vehicle in question. Everyone is aware that pickup trucks with a weight ratio front to rear of 60/40 need the best tires on the rear to prevent the back from sliding out in poor conditions.
    What is not evident too casual observer is cars that have weight ratios more unbalanced than pickup’s. With a weight ratio of 65/35 a small car can weigh as much as a limo on the front and have only half as much weight on the rear. At this point the condition and the tread depth of the rear tires become’s critical to prevent the vehicle from getting sideways resulting in rollover or severe direction change.

    There are some good videos on the Internet showing how important the rear tires of a vehicle are. Also the Society of Automotive Engineers paper 2002-01-0553 shows any decrease of tread depth from new of the rear tires can contribute to an accident.