Road accidents in ice and snow: who’s responsible?
Who is legally responsible for a road accident in ice and snow? Coodes Solicitors’ paralegal Toby Szczur outlines the key points and the implications for personal injury claims.
The winter weather brings with it additional dangers to our roads. You may consider accidents caused by snow or ice to be void of responsibility but this is far from the case. Although the courts view adverse weather as a contributory factor in an accident, it is not an excuse for unsafe driving.
Although winter weather can make a personal injury claim more complex, do not let this put you off pursuing a claim as many people are eligible for compensation. Depending on the facts and context of the accident, you may be able to make a personal injury claim against:
- The driver of the third-party vehicle
- The local authority
- The Highways Agency
Did the driver make adjustments?
If you are injured in a road traffic accident and the driver did not drive appropriately for the conditions, or prepare their car in accordance with The Highway Code, they may be held responsible. You could be entitled to compensation, which would be paid by their insurance.
All drivers have a duty of care to other road users during times of adverse winter weather. That means, if a driver encounters ice or snow, they must adjust their driving style to suit the conditions at hand. This may involve driving at slower speeds and maintaining a greater distance between other vehicles.
Ultimately, the driver must be able to safely stop or avoid hazards at short notice without losing control of their vehicle.
Driving in ice and snow
The Highway Code lists additional steps motorists should take in snow or icy weather. This includes preparing your car before setting off. According to Rule 229 of the Highway Code a driver must:
- Be able to clearly see. This is achieved by clearing any ice or snow from all windows, especially the front windscreen.
- Ensure that a vehicle’s lights and number plates are visible and legible.
The rule also recommends that drivers should:
- Ensure all mirrors and windows are clear and demisted.
- Remove all snow from the vehicle to avoid it falling into the path of other road users.
- Ensure they plan a route that is clear of delays and further predicted snowfall or adverse weather.
UK law does not require all-season or winter tyres during the colder months. However, if you live in an area that regularly sees snow and ice, it may be a worthwhile investment. This will make winter driving both easier and safer. It also makes a clear statement that you are a responsible and considerate driver. If you were to be involved in an accident as a result of winter conditions, a set of all-season or winter tyres would make it harder for the third-party driver’s insurers to argue that you contributed to the accident.
It is always worth considering whether your journey is absolutely necessary. The best way to stay safe on the road in adverse winter conditions is to stay off the road completely.
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The local authority: a duty to keep the roads safe
It is not only motorists who can be found responsible for injuries caused during a road traffic accident. Both the local authority and Highways Agency play key roles in ensuring our roads our safe for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. This includes the prompt gritting of icy roads and ensuring our highways are maintained during the winter weather. When necessary, they may need to display warning signs or closing roads.
The Highways Act 1980 outlines the duty owed to road users by local authorities and the Highways Agency. If you suffer an injury as a result of a breach of these duties, you may be able to make a personal injury claim against the local authority or Highways Agency.
In the recent case of Michael Smithson v Bradley Lynn (1) North Yorkshire County Council (2), the local authority failed to grit a road in breach of section 41(1A) of the Highways Act. This caused Mr Lynn to lose control and crash into Mr Smithson. The council was found to bear two thirds of responsibility for the accident, with Mr Lynn bearing one third of the responsibility for driving too fast in the conditions.
If you have been injured in a road traffic accident, compensation could be vital to you getting back on track. We can help you recover lost earnings, for example, and access treatment. In most cases, you have three years from the date of the accident to make a claim. Pursuing a claim takes time, so starting the process early by talking to a specialist personal injury solicitor will give you the best chance of getting the support you need.