Driving in the rain presents greater danger than driving in wintry snow and ice.
That’s right. You know how some people go crazy when the snow flies. Officials warn everyone to stay off the roads due to snow and ice. Grocery stores fill up with shoppers grabbing milk, bread and everything else needed for a homebound spell.
But is rain really worse than hazards presented by winter snow and ice?
Is hydroplaning … sliding along on pools of water … the only rain related danger?
Can a person who slides across the road on wet pavement blame the rain for causing the accident?
Hydroplaning occurs when a vehicle’s speed causes it’s tires to lift off the roadway. The vehicle’s tires then travel on a layer of water rather than griping the road surface.
With as little as 1/12 inch of water on the road, tires need to displace a gallon of water per second to keep the rubber meeting the road. If it sounds impossible, its why a car hydroplanes even on smaller amounts of water on the roadway.
Hydroplaning is not the only Wet Roadway Hazard
You know all those patches of oil in nearly every parking lot, underneath where the engines of parked cars are? It’s obviously from oil dripping from the engine area. Imagine the hundreds and thousands of cars traveling on the highways we all use every day.
Even if each car drips only a tiny amount of oil it adds up. Multiplied by the number of cars, and the roads are covered with a thin sheen of oil, even if you can’t see it. When it rains, the water on top of the thin layer of oil combines to create an extremely slippery surface.
The longer it has been since the last rainfall, the worse the danger of this oil-water combo. That’s why slower speeds are highly recommended even in very light rain. Having pursued car accident cases for many years, I’ve heard it time after time, the negligent driver “had no idea” the road surface could be that slippery.
But the oil slick danger creates what accident analysts call a condition, and not the cause of an accident.
Don’t Blame the Rain for an Accident
If you’ve been rear-ended by someone who blames the wet rainy road, don’t buy it. All drivers have a duty to use what the law calls “reasonable care” to avoid causing danger to others on the road. That means driving safely under all of the existing conditions, in view of the serious consequences that might occur for failure to do so.
The rules of the road in every state that I’ve looked at require drivers to drive safely under all existing circumstances. Rain and the obvious reduced ability to brake normally present one of those conditions.
For example Massachusetts law says it this way:
“… every person operating a motor vehicle shall decrease the speed of the same when a special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic, or by reason of weather or highway conditions.”
Massachusetts MGL c. 90 § 17 (4)
And New Hampshire’s law on driving in bad weather says it this way:
“No person shall drive a vehicle on a way at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.
New Hampshire RSA 265:60 I
Rules of the road like these require drivers to adjust driving habits whether it’s clear and dry, raining cats and dogs or anything in between.
Courts looking at car accident cases will find drivers at fault when they fail to slow down and change their driving habits when it rains. The same idea applies whether we’re talking about snow, rain, fog or any other weather hazard. Less than perfect weather imposes a legal duty upon drivers to adjust their driving habits.
Driving in the Rain More Dangerous than Winter Driving?
Back to the question raised above: does rain really present greater danger than snow and ice?
Those who gather traffic data report that rain causes more accidents, thus higher danger, than snow and ice.
Wet pavement causes an average of over 950,000 automobile crashes each year according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Agency numbers show these rain related car accidents result in 4,700 deaths and 384,000 injuries.
“The vast majority of most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and during rainfall: 73% on wet pavement and 46% during rainfall. A much smaller percentage of weather-related crashes occur during winter conditions.”
NHTSA 10-year data analysis by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that only 17 percent of U.S. car accidents take place during snow or sleet. So national accident statistics confirm that winter road hazards present less danger than rain and wet roadways. 73 per cent of weather-related car accidents take place on wet pavement and during rainfall.
Rainy Days and Bad Drivers
There’s an old song about “Rainy Days and Mondays” always getting you down. But no matter what day it is rain creates tough driving conditions and, if not taken seriously by the driver, makes bad drivers even worse.
When it comes to insurance companies when they want to lowball your case, they’ll apply all of the above as it suits their needs. If their insured driver was going too fast for conditions but under the posted speed limit they’ll whine that their driver was going within the posted limit. This is wrong because as we’ve seen above, the law requires drivers to slow down in the rain.
Some drivers who caused an accident claim they didn’t know the road was so slippery and it was an unforeseen condition, not a cause of the accident. Insurance companies actually buy into this bogus defense attempting to pay as little or nothing as possible. But all of the above information is in virtually every driver’s manual in America. Road hazards caused by rain and other bad weather are foreseeable. Failing to take foreseeable risks into account is the definition of negligence.
If you have been in an accident and the other driver blames the rain, call my office. Don’t let their insurance company accept such nonsense and try to bully you into a bad settlement. Driving in the rain presents dangers. Those dangers are well known, foreseeable and avoidable with due care.
How do Weather Events Impact Roads?, How do Weather Events Impact Roads?, U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
Smith v. Town of Brookline, 587 N.E.2d 1384, 412 Mass. 251 (1992).