Weather Conditions and Car Accidents


When night falls or the weather turns bad, the chances of an auto accident can increase substantially. This article discusses some of the more common ways in which weather affects driver behavior and driving safety.

Weather and Driver Safety

Weather and reduced night-time visibility may affect driving safety in manners that include:

  • Diminished Visibility - During rain storms and snowstorms, the failing rain or snow can make it difficult for drivers to see. When snow or rain is combined with dirty water or slush thrown up from the road by other drivers, windshields can quickly become dirty. Similarly, fog can significantly impair visibility and render headlights ineffective.

  • Diminished Traction - Bad weather conditions can make it more difficult to stay on a roadway, to stop for a signal or object on the roadway, or to avoid colliding with other vehicles. Sometimes even a light snowfall will obscure defects in the road, or cover up a patch of ice, necessitating driver vigilance. Drivers must adjust their speed out of respect for water, snow or ice on the road surface.

  • Cross-Winds - Strong or sudden cross-winds may make it difficult for drivers to stay in their lane. Following a snowfall, sometimes snow will be blown across a roadway, obscuring the road surface including possible patches of ice.

  • Changes of Season - On the whole you are most likely to encounter drivers who respond poorly to weather conditions as the seasons change, or when weather conditions are unusual for the location. What would be regarded as a light snowfall in a northern state may cause gridlock in the south. Following a heavy rain after a dry spell, or after the first snowfall of the year, it takes some drivers a while to adjust to the weather conditions.

Drivers should be prepared for the possibility of bad weather and, before driving, make sure that they have sufficient windshield solvent to wash dirt and salt from their windshields.

During some weather conditions, the only safe speed for a vehicle is zero miles per hour. Should visibility become dangerously bad, drivers should try to find a safe way to get off of the roadway until visibility improves.

Conduct of Other Drivers

In bad weather conditions, there are two types of driver who can significantly increase the risk to others. For lack of better terms, we'll refer to them as the excessively timid driver, and the reckless maniac.

  • The Excessively Timid Driver - An excessively timid driver will overestimate the danger of the weather conditions, and will drive at an unreasonably low speed. When the weather limits the number of available traffic lanes, such as can happen following a snowfall, this type of driver can cause traffic to back up. On a highway, the timid driver's low speed may inspire other drivers to try to pass by entering a traffic lane that is full of snow, slush, or ice, creating the risk of accident. On a regular roadway, their low speed may make it more difficult for other drivers to turn, or may cause cars to become stuck in accumulated snow or slush as they do not have sufficient momentum to pass through the obstruction.

  • The Reckless Maniac - This type of driver will completely ignore the consequences of weather, or may even think it is a good thing that the weather has forced a lot of other drivers off of the road. The reckless maniac may well drive at full highway speed or greater, even when visibility is low or the roads are covered with slush and ice. Often this driver will be in a four wheel drive vehicle, and will assume that 4WD somehow makes it impossible for a vehicle to skid. When a sudden emergency arises, or they lose control on a slippery road, their high speed makes it far less likely that they will be able to avoid a collision.

Additionally, sometimes after a snowfall a driver will fail to clear snow and ice from a vehicle before driving, such that snow or chunks of ice fly off of their vehicles while they drive down the roadway. When box trucks and semi drivers fail to clear ice from the roofs of their vehicles, sometimes the snow or ice will slide off in a sheet, creating a serious risk to vehicles behind them on the roadway.

Weather Conditions and Car Accident Liability

All drivers should be aware of hazards posed by weather conditions, including the fact that some drivers will operate their vehicles irresponsibly.

Drivers who fail to take weather conditions or poor illumination into consideration, or operate their vehicles when the windows are obscured by dirt, debris, ice or snow, pose an increased hazard to other drivers. When a driver's unsafe speed or the operation of a vehicle with an obscured windshield contribute to an accident, the driver may be held liable for property damage and injuries caused to other drivers.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was first published on Feb 1, 2006, and was last reviewed or amended on Jul 19, 2016.