Adverse weather is a common cause of New Jersey motor vehicle accidents. In bad weather, motor vehicle operators must take certain precautions to ensure the safe operation of their vehicles and the safety of others.
Similarly, municipalities, government entities and certain private entities must exercise due care in making roadways safe during bead weather. When these parties fail to exercise due care, and it results in an accident, there may exist a legal claim for damages.
Contributing Adverse Weather Factors
From freezing rain and snow, to pouring rain, inclement weather can contribute to motor vehicle accidents.
- Visibility – Bad weather can severely limit a driver's visibility. Rain, snow, fog, high wind and other conditions can affect your ability to see the road, other cars, and other objects. Limited visibility greatly increases the chance of an an accident.
- Braking distance – Rain, ice, and snow affect how quickly you can safely stop when operating a vehicle. The New Jersey Driver's Manual advises that in ideal weather conditions, you should keep at least 4 car lengths between you and the car in front of you while traveling 40 miles per hour. On wet pavement and gravel, you need to double this number. For packed snow, you should triple it. And in the case of icy roads, you should drop your speed to no more than 30 miles per hour, while keeping 18 car lengths between you and other vehicles.
- Black ice – This road hazard is particularly dangerous because it is virtually impossible to spot. If you hit it, even at low speeds, you can easily spin out of control.
- Underlying ice – Much like black ice, ice hidden under snow on roadways is difficult to spot and can cause a vehicle to slide and crash.
- Hydroplaning - This perilous situation can occur on wet roads at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour. The risk increases at higher speeds, based on tire conditions and vehicle size and weight. When you hydroplane, your vehicle essentially loses traction with the road.
- High winds - vehicles of all sizes can be affected high winds. In particular, motorcycles and high-profile trucks are at risk in high wind conditions. Wind-blown debris on roadways can also present a hazards to drivers.
New Jersey Law for Winter Conditions
New Jersey law requires motorists to take reasonable measures to clear ice and snow from their vehicles before taking to the roadways. This includes more than the windshield – the law requires that the entire vehicle be cleared. Thus, if a law enforcement official determines that snow or ice accumulation on your vehicle poses a safety threat to other motorists, you may received a citation.
Moreover, all drivers in the state are required to use due care in operating their vehicles. This requirement applies not only in fair weather, but also during inclement weather.
The law also requires government entities, municipalities and certain private entities to take reasonable measures to make the roadways safe during adverse weather. If a responsible party fails to take proper measures in this regard, and an accident ensues, that party may be held responsible for a victim's damages in a legal claim.
Poor Road Conditions
Mother nature is not the only culprit when it comes to perilous road conditions. Man-made hazards are a constant presence. Between our failing infrastructure, ongoing construction, and existing roadway hazards, the possibility for collisions is always present.
Potholes, crumbling shoulders, gravel, uneven surfaces, steep curves, narrow bridges, blind spots, wildlife, farm animals, construction zones and unexpected detours all present hazardous conditions to motorists, increasing the risk of accidents.
By the Numbers
The US Department of Transportation reports that bad weather contributes to nearly one-quarter of all motor vehicle accidents. In New Jersey, there were more than 200 motor vehicle accidents or roadway issues during a single February 2017 snowstorm. The Federal Highway Administration reports an annual 1.5 million collisions on the highway due to adverse weather conditions. This startling number includes approximately 7,000 deaths and 800,000 injuries every year.
When a driver fails to exercise due caution in adverse weather conditions and causes an accident, they may be liable for any resulting damages. Similarly, when a party responsible for making a roadway safe fails to do so, and this results in an accident, they may be held liable in court.
An experienced New Jersey car accident lawyer can help when you have been injured in an accident. A lawyer can listen to the facts of your case, explain your rights and help you pursue just and fair compensation for your damages.
In particular, claims against municipalities and government entities may require advance notice of the claim under the NJ State Tort Claims Act, or otherwise be time-barred. A lawyer can help.