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Why Weather is Never an Excuse

March 23, 2010 by Steven M. Gursten

Rule of the Road No. 8 – Truck Accidents Under Hazardous Driving Conditions

Weather is almost never a valid excuse for causing a truck accident. I’ve taught at several trucking seminars and case workshops for lawyers around the country, and I’m always surprised by the number of lawyers bringing truck accident cases that occurred in bad weather; and how worried they are about a “sudden emergency” argument from the defense at trial.

Let’s nip this misconception in the bud right now.

Truck accident lawyers should rely on 49 CFR ? 392.14. Under this important federal regulation, the law requires “extreme caution” in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle when “hazardous conditions” such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust or smoke, can adversely affect visibility or traction. Under this regulation, speed “shall” be reduced when such conditions exist. If the conditions become “sufficiently dangerous,” the truck driver is required to stop operating the truck and wait until weather conditions improve.

It is also important to note that many states actually go one step further. For example, Michigan has Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) guidelines that require truck drivers to reduce the speed of the truck by two-thirds of the posted speed limit on hazardous roads. I’ve downloaded a lot of black boxes after serious truck accidents. I see trucks going over the posted speed limit, or going the posted speed limit in terrible weather conditions. I have yet to see a truck that was going two-thirds or less than the posted speed limit.

The takeaway is simple: Weather will almost never be an excuse for causing a serious truck accident. Unless you are talking about a truly unforeseen, “act of God,” with no warning whatsoever – it came from the heavens-type of weather pattern – all of these serious truck accidents could have been prevented.

And bad driving judgment in terrible weather usually goes hand-in-hand with hours of service violations and driver fatigue.

Michigan Weather and Truck Accidents: Back to Basics

The Michigan Basic Speed Law requires a truck driver to travel at a “careful and prudent” speed in all driving conditions. This translates into driving at a speed that allows one to stop within the clear distance ahead before crashing into another vehicle on the road. Depending on the weather conditions, speed may therefore be lower than that posted by a speed limit.

Here are some additional tips for truck drivers on avoiding accidents when there’s inclement weather. You can also take a look at this list of special Michigan driving conditions.

Yes, Michigan weather can cause treacherous road conditions. But weather should not play a role in causing truck accidents in Michigan if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation and state CDL manual is followed.

My series on “Rules of the Road” for truck accident lawyers from my recent truck litigation seminar in New Orleans will continue Thursday. Tomorrow, I want to discuss a great ongoing dialog I’ve been having with several other lawyers and medical professionals on the critical connection between traumatic brain injury and chronic pain.

Steven M. Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious truck accident injury cases. He serves on the board of governors for the Association of Plaintiffs Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America. Steve is past-president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group. Recently, he was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts to promote truck safety.

– Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by OregonDOT

Related information:

Issues that May Require Experts in Truck Accident Cases

Truck Industry Myths

Find a Lawyer for Your Truck Accident Case

Previous blogs from “Rules of the Road Every Truck Accident Lawyer Needs to Know” series:

Rules of the Road: Intro for Truck Lawyers

Truck Driver Fatigue

Truck Lawyers: Get Your Hands on Those Discovery Documents!

Investigate the Trucker’s Background and History

Truck Driver Qualification Files

What Truck Accident Lawyers Must Know About Black Boxes

How to Nab the Tired Trucker

Why is the Pre-trip Inspection the Most Violated Safety Rule?

Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation from one of our attorneys.

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