So you want to venture out in the snow and not crash? Follow these simple tips, and you should be able to arrive safely or know when not to travel. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement and 15 percent happen during snowfall or sleet.”
The Maryland car accident lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras discuss tips to avoid a crash in the snow this winter.
The Penny Test for Tire Tread Depth
Have you ever heard of the penny test? In addition to being one of the best U.S. Presidents, Abraham Lincoln could save your life when heading out in the snow. the penny test goes like this: Place a penny head in the groves of your tires. If you see the top of Lincoln’s head, you should not drive in the snow.
Tread wear will provide less grip and traction in the snow and leave you driving on rubber ice skates. So, instead of heading out in the snow, relax, let the snow melt, and head to a tire shop as soon as the roads clear to get a new set of “shoes.” If you have the “tread,” the next step is preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Being Prepared for a Breakdown in the Snow
The Boys Scouts have been chanting this mantra for years; “BE PREPARED.” That means, before you leave the house, make sure you have the tools you may need if you break down in the snow. Check these items off your life before you head out in the snow and ice:
Fill Your Windshield Washer Fluid
alt spray, snow, and ice can reduce viability on your front windshield. If you can’t see, then you cannot drive. So make sure you have plenty of the “blue stuff” in your reservoir. You may need to wait for the car to warm up so the washer fluid thaws. Most repair shops will save a penny by “watering down” the fluid they provide to customers. Traditional washer fluid is supposed to remain liquid, but with the water mixed in, you may have a frozen block under the hood.
Clear Snow from Your Car
Start with a clean slate, get that snow and ice off the windshields before you head out the driveway. At least start the drive with an advantage.
Turn on Your lights
If you don’t have your lights on, then other drivers cannot see you in thick snowfall. If they can’t see you, then they may run into you.
Keep Your Low Beams On
Don’t turn on those high beams (it blinds other drivers) and the increased light will bounce off the snow and make it harder to see.
Keep Tools in the Car
If you’ve ever had to change a tire under normal conditions, you know how hard it can be. Just imagine your lug nuts are frozen or covered in ice. Keep a wrench and hammer in the car to knock that ice off and loosen any “tough to turn” bolts if you have to change a tire. You may also want to include a shovel, it can get you out of some snow spots if you get stuck.
Keeping Your Car on Level Ground
Slopes and hills are a driver’s worst enemy in the snow and ice. Momentum will generally carry a car over a rough patch of snow or ice. But if you stop on a hill or slope, then you are going to need to get the car moving again. This can prove difficult and sometimes impossible. Cars that are not equipped with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive may slip and slide down a hire or into a ditch (or ravine). Keep your car on level ground and moving when you aren’t driving on flat ground.
How to Get Your Car Unstuck from Snow
Your car is stuck in the snow, now what? Getting stuck in the snow can be bad news for the rest of your day, often leading to abandoning the vehicle until the snow melts or a tow truck rescues your vehicle. There is a way to get your car unstuck, but it may take a little trial and error and luck. Start by rocking the car back and forth. Don’t “hit the gas” as this will only make the tires spin. Slowly apply the gas and try to get some momentum to move the car forward or backward until you get a grip. If this doesn’t work, then you may have to dig out some snow in front and behind the tires. If this still does not work or you left the shovel in your garage, then use your floor mat to create traction.
Preventing Spinning and Sliding by Brake Usage
Braking too hard can make it work. If you apply the brake too hard or too fast then your car may begin to spin or slide and you don’t want to panic. Take your foot off the brake and allow the transmission to slow the vehicle. As long as you aren’t giving the car gas, it will slow on it’s own. the transmission will slow the car, but not stop it. Take you foot off the brake, don’t give it any gas and regain control of the vehicle.
Identifying Black Ice
Black ice is real, and you may not even see it. Some people call it “clear ice,” but whatever it is called, it is nasty. There is nothing out there to prevent you from sliding on black ice unless you have diamond-tip tires or metal treads. the rubber on your tires hits the black ice, and you just have to hope there isn’t much of it. You cannot stop on black ice, the best advice is to remove your foot from the gas, don’t hit the brakes, and let the car pass over the black ice and return to either snow or the road to regaining traction.
Are You at Fault if You Cause a Crash in the Snow?
If you are hit by someone driving in snowy conditions, you might be able to hold them liable for your injuries. However, the driver’s liability will depend a great deal on the specific conditions of the accident and the driver’s own conduct.
Is it the Driver’s Fault or the Snow’s Fault?
You cannot sue the weather, no matter how much you may want to. Snow and ice are not parties that can be liable for your injuries or pay damages. In the eyes of the law. This leaves the driver as a liable party for your accident. The legal question to ask, then, is whether the accident was caused only because of bad weather, or if the other driver paid a part in the accident.
Drivers have a duty to drive reasonably while on the road. Under normal circumstances, this means adhering to the speed limit, not running red lights, and heeding other traffic laws. In bad weather conditions, drivers must drive reasonably for those weather conditions. In the case of snow, this might mean going much lower than the speed limit, keeping lights on due to low visibility, or braking sooner so that the car has enough space to stop.
If a driver that caused your accident did not drive responsibly in snowy weather, you might have a claim against them. However, if the other driver was doing their best and, despite their best efforts, hit you, your claim might be on thin ice.
Other drivers are not the only people that need to drive safely in the snow. You could be prevented from recovering damages if your own driving is not up to reasonable standards in the snow.
Maryland is one of five states that follow the doctrine of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is a principle that prevents plaintiffs from recovering if they were partially responsible for their own injuries. If a court finds that a car accident was even a little bit your fault, you will not win the case. Maryland defense lawyers and insurance companies are aware of this rule and will try and make it seem like the accident was at least partially your fault if you go to court.
Your lawyer should be the one talking to opposing counsel or insurance companies, but if you must speak with either of those parties, make sure that you do not implicate yourself. Avoid saying that something was your fault. Even a phrase as innocent as “my bad” could attach partial liability and prevent your recovery of damages.
Additionally, keep your vehicle well maintained and able to handle snowy weather. If your vehicle is unfit to drive in the snow, the other side could try and make it seem like you were irresponsible to be driving in the first place.
Last Clear Chance
There are limited ways that someone can “get around” Maryland’s contributory negligence rules. One way is the “last clear chance” rule. This rule means that a defendant can still be liable for an accident the plaintiff contributed to, so long as the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident. If, for example, a defendant had the option to veer out of the way, but did not do so for some reason, the defendant had the last clear chance to prevent the accident.
Make sure you drive especially carefully so that any would-be defendant is the one blamed for an accident, not you.
Uncleared Snow and Ice on Roadways
It often takes a very long time to clear roadways of serious snow and ice. In particularly bad weather, snow can even keep people inside their homes until the roads are cleared. Counties and municipalities know this and do make efforts to clear roadways via snowplows and salt trucks. However, the clearance of heavy snow and ice is not always timely and not universally effective.
If the county or municipality did not reasonably make the roadways safe or warn drivers to stay off the road, you might have a claim against them.
Uncleared Snow and Ice on the Property
Nobody likes clearing their driveway and sidewalk of snow. However, Maryland legally requires property owners to clear snow and ice from their property and adjoining sidewalks within a certain amount of time. Store owners must clear their parking lots, house renters are usually required to clear a certain portion of the street where they live, and homeowners associations must clear their roadways. The time varies from place to place, but usually, snow must be clear within 12-48 hours of snowfall ending.
The local government will usually fine non-compliant property owners a small amount. Sometimes less than 100 dollars. However, the property owners will still be liable for any injuries you sustain due to their noncompliance.
You should still keep in mind that contributory negligence laws could make it harder to recover from property owners who didn’t clear their land. If you know that there are snowy and icy conditions near their property, you could be seen as partially responsible if you decide to drive through it anyway. Exceptions are most often applied for black ice on property. Drivers are not expected to be aware of the presence of black ice in any particular area because it is hard to see.
If you believe that a property owner’s failure to clear snow from their property contributed to your accident, you should take them to court.
Contact Our Maryland Car Accident Lawyers
Attorney Randolph Rice is a Baltimore car accident lawyer and has represented clients injured in snow car accidents. Some of the most common accidents he sees are cars that don’t stop in time and rear-end the car in front of them. Slow down in the snow, it may take longer to stop.