Driving on Snow and Ice - what are a driver’s duties?

While 2019 and 2020 were no-snow years, #2021 has brought us our first significant snow fall in recent memory.  With this #storm came #ice and #sleet, which made driving within the #DC Metro area even more dangerous than it already is.  Some people have asked whether their duties as drivers change during sleet, snow, and ice (and, my correlation, how can they avoid being negligent!) The answer is a resounding yes!

 

Basic legal principles

 

            As an initial matter, is important to understand negligence and “duty”.  Negligence means one of two things: 1) failing to do something a reasonable person should have done, or 2) doing something that a reasonable person would not do.  A “duty” means a requirement imposed by either statute or case law, to do a certain thing, in a certain way.  Some people have duties, some do not.  For example, a pedestrian on a sidewalk has a duty to look both ways, and cross when safe.  A driver has a duty to operate a motor vehicle in a safe and responsible manner.  A breach of these duties, or requirements, creates negligence. 

 

Driving

 

            Regardless of jurisdiction, a driver in the #DMV (and indeed, everywhere!) has a duty to operate a motor vehicle with due regard for his own safety, the safety of other motorists, the safety of pedestrians, and the general public.   On a sunny day, a driver has a duty to drive carefully. 

           

            When snow and ice enter the mix, the same duty of a driver to act/drive cautiously actually increases(1).  When conditions exist which create dangerous situations, those situations need to be anticipated and recognized.  Every motorist knows that ice makes things slick and that stopping too abruptly can cause a vehicle to loose traction, or skid.  This suggests that a driver on an icy roadway needs to leave himself plenty of stopping distance, so he does not skid - possibly into another car.  

 

            Another duty that drivers have normally, and that is heightened in the presence of snow and ice, is the duty to exercise “increased”  vigilance while driving(2).  Vigilance means, in modern terms, keeping “your head on a swivel,” or being alert to other conditions on the road, and other vehicles upon that road.  This may mean lowering the volume on the radio, or ending a hands-free phone call that might have been made.  In short, one cannot drive “as usual” when conditions are not usual. 

 

            Driving when it is snowing also requires the activation of a driver’s headlights, by law(3) - and this is regardless of whether it is daytime or nighttime.  Many drivers think that if they can see, they do not need their headlamps.  However, those lights are also an indicator for other vehicles, whether traveling in the same direction or not.  Consider a vehicle trying to turn left across oncoming traffic - that driver’s estimation of on-coming speed and distance may be off, and could lead to an accident in snowy conditions, if one of the oncoming vehicles has its headlights off.

 

            These are just some examples.  In short, a driver has a duty to operate their vehicle with reasonable care, commensurate with conditions as they exist.  A driver has to look, listen, and be mindful not just of other drivers, but the road itself.  In short, a driver must drive more carefully when there is snow and ice - like this week!  A driver who does not drive carefully, and causes an accident, is negligent. 

 

            If you have been hurt because another driver failed to drive safely under snowy or icy conditions, called Blaszkow Legal today - 703-879-5910.  We will put our 40 years’ of experience to work for you!

 

 

 By: Matt, Chief Paralegal

 

 

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All cases cited are Virginia, unless otherwise specified

(1) Meador v. Lawson, 214 Va. 759, 204 S.E.2d 285 (1974)

 

(2) Via v. Badanes, 189 Va. 44, 52 S.E.2d 174. (1949)

 

(3) Virginia Code 46.2-1030       

 https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title46.2/chapter10/section46.2-1030/

 

(4) Maryland Code, Transportation Article § 22-201.1 (2019)           

https://law.justia.com/codes/maryland/2019/transportation/title-22/subtitle-2/sect-22-201-1/