The United States Department of Transportation has reported that, on average, winter weather causes over a half a million automobile crashes and about two thousand deaths per year. Driving in the presence of ice and snow is something Ohioans are prepared to deal with every year, yet some conditions, like unnatural accumulation of ice or potholes, can cause unforeseen and unavoidable dangers.
Ohio’s laws generally do not allow drivers to use roadway conditions as an excuse for an accident. In most cases, it is the driver’s duty to control his or her vehicle if they choose to get behind the wheel, regardless of the condition of the roads. This is especially true when a driver causes an accident on an area of the roadway that they travel on often. For example, if a driver lives or travels to work on a certain roadway, he or she should know how snow or ice tends to affect its condition and adjust his or her driving patterns accordingly. Otherwise, he or she might be considered negligent in the eyes of the law.
There are, however, a few notable exceptions. Under these exceptions, the owners of the land surrounding the roadway or the local government in charge of maintaining the roadways may be considered liable for an automobile accident. If a property owner redirects the flow of water off of his or her property and on to the road, unnatural accumulations of ice can occur, subjecting drivers to hazardous conditions. This type accumulation of ice is not the natural, expected result of winter weather, and thus drivers might not be considered negligent for failing to anticipate its presence. This type of accumulation could happen if a property owner re-grades or somehow alters the way water drains off of his or her property, causing water to collect in the roadway and potentially freeze.
Another exception is the presence of potholes. Ohio courts have found in many cases that state or local governments may be held liable for car crashes that are caused by potholes. The government agency in charge of maintaining a road may be liable if it had notice of the existence of the pothole and had ample time to fix the pothole before the crash occurred. Because potholes are easy to fix, courts have found that state and local governments have a duty to citizens to fix them quickly once they are aware of them. Failure to do so may make the government agency liable for any resulting car accidents.
The Ohio Department of Transportation provides these tips to keep you safe while driving in winter weather:
- Drive much more slowly than you normally would. With snow and ice on the roadway, it can take up to 9 times longer to stop your vehicle than on a clear roadway.
- If you have anti-lock brakes, press your brake pedal down firmly and hold it there to stop. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, pump your brake pedal to stop your vehicle.
- Avoid using cruise control on slick roads. When turning, spin your wheel gradually and avoid sudden movements. You want to keep as much control over your vehicle as possible.
- Keep some emergency supplies with you in case you do get stuck. A charged cell phone, a blanket, some bottled water, and jumper cables may help you out in case of a crash.