Impact of Weather Conditions on Car Accidents in Canada

Canadian weather, particularly in winter, can make driving conditions more dangerous, potentially leading to car accidents. Snow, ice, freezing temperatures, heavy rain, fog, and high winds can all contribute to a crash. Drivers in Canada should know how weather conditions can increase the risks of an accident and familiarize themselves with how to stay safe on the road in bad weather. Drivers should also know that even when an accident occurs in inclement weather, motorists may still have liability for a crash when their negligent or reckless driving contributes to the accident.

Weather-Related Car Accident Statistics

According to Transport Canada, environmental factors such as adverse weather contributed to 18 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents in Canada in one recent year. Bad weather frequently contributes to car accidents. The RCMP reports that about 30 percent of accidents occurred on wet, icy, or snowy roads, with about one-third of all accidents in Canada occurring from November through February. Insurance companies report that accident claims increased by around 50 percent in December and January. Single-vehicle accidents most frequently occurred from October through December.

Common Weather-Related Causes of Car Accidents in Canada

Adverse weather conditions that can cause or contribute to car accidents in Canada include:

  • Rain – Rain can cause road surfaces to become slick, especially near intersections, after a long dry spell. Rainwater can mix with oil and other vehicle fluids that have leaked into the pavement. Heavy rain can create puddles or standing water on the road, increasing the risk of hydroplaning. Hydroplaning occurs when tires lose contact with the road surface and instead skid along the top of a puddle or standing water, potentially causing the vehicle to skid out of control.
  • Snow and ice – Snow, sleet, or ice can make the road surface slippery, potentially causing vehicle tires to lose traction. When driving in a winter storm, motorists should reduce their speed even further and use four-wheel-drive if their vehicle is so equipped. In certain conditions, drivers may need to use tire chains to help grip the road through snow and ice.
  • High winds – High winds can make it difficult for drivers to maintain control of their vehicles, especially tall vehicles like SUVs or commercial trucks. High winds can increase the risk of a tip-over or rollover for vehicles with a high center of gravity.
  • Fog – Fog occurs when clouds form near the ground. Fog usually forms during the night, persisting into the early morning hours. Heavy fog can severely decrease visibility for drivers. Drivers may have car accidents in foggy conditions when they fail to slow down or use low-beam headlights or hazard lights.
  • Freezing temperatures – When temperatures fall below freezing, especially after rain or when dew forms, moisture on road surfaces can freeze, forming patches of black ice. Black ice is thin, transparent ice on the road. Because you can see through black ice, drivers frequently have trouble spotting icy patches. Driving over black ice can cause a vehicle to skid or spin out of control.

How Weather Conditions Affect Driving Behaviors

When drivers encounter adverse weather conditions, they should alter their driving behaviors from how they usually drive in ideal conditions. Drivers should slow down in adverse weather, even traveling slower than the posted speed limit if necessary. Slowing down can help reduce the chances of skidding or spinning out of control on slippery roads. Driving more slowly will also give drivers more time to brake or react to hazards. Drivers should also increase their following distances on slick roads or in low visibility conditions. If the vehicle ahead brakes, your car will need an increased distance to slow down and stop on a slippery road surface.

Drivers who fail to alter their driving behavior in lousy weather and continue to speed, tailgate, or engage in other careless or reckless behaviors significantly increase their chances of having a crash or collision.

Importance of Vehicle Maintenance in Preventing Weather-Related Car Accidents

Maintaining your car in good condition can also help reduce the risk of a car accident in bad weather. Inclement weather can tax a vehicle’s performance. Deferred maintenance can increase the chances of mechanical failure caused by adverse conditions. Maintenance checklist items that drivers should stay on top of to reduce the likelihood of a weather-related car accident include:

  • Regularly check tire tread depth. In many parts of Canada, drivers must replace tires when tread depth wears down to 1.6 mm. However, many manufacturers recommend replacing tires when the tread depth reaches 3.175 mm (3.96 mm for snow tires).
  • If your vehicle comes with summer tires, remember to switch to snow/winter tires during colder months.
  • Check your tire pressure regularly to keep your tires at the recommended tire pressure listed on the tire placard on your driver’s door frame. Check pressure before a long drive, as pressure will increase as tires warm up.
  • Take your car in for all manufacturer-recommended maintenance, including oil changes, tire rotations, and brake replacements.
  • Check your oil, coolant, antifreeze, and wiper fluid levels regularly, particularly before any long trips.

The Role of Weather Conditions for Road Infrastructure

Canadian weather, particularly winter weather, can take a heavy toll on road infrastructure and increase the risk of car accidents. Snow and ice can break down road surfaces, especially when cracks form where water can get into the pavement. When that water freezes during cold temperatures, it expands as ice, potentially causing the pavement to crack or crumble. Hitting broken pavement or potholes can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles or may trigger a tire blowout or tread separation. 

Drivers should also remember where icy roads more frequently form. Bridges and overpasses freeze before other surfaces due to exposure to cold air above and underneath the road. Shaded roads can have black ice after sunrise, especially when temperatures stay below freezing.

Avoiding Car Accidents in Adverse Weather Conditions

Although you can ensure that you avoid getting into a car accident due to adverse weather conditions by staying home and waiting out the weather, sometimes you may need to get on the road in rain, sleet, ice, snow, or fog. When driving in bad weather, you should remember some critical tips that can help reduce your chances of having an accident. These tips include:

  • If necessary, slow down in adverse weather conditions, even below the speed limit. Increase your following distance from vehicles ahead of you.
  • Turn on your low-beam headlights in precipitation or fog. Do not use your high beams in fog, as the extra light will reflect off the fog, potentially disorienting other drivers.
  • Use your hazard lights to make yourself more visible to other drivers in extremely low visibility.
  • Follow the white line on the side of the road when driving through a heavy fog since following the line will help keep you in your lane and on the road and prevent disorientation from the headlight of oncoming vehicles.
  • Give yourself extra time to get to your destination when driving through adverse weather so you don’t feel pressured to rush if you need to slow down or encounter traffic delays.
  • Keep a safety kit in your car with a flashlight, first-aid kit, non-perishable food and water, blankets, jumper cables, tow straps, hazard triangles or road flares, battery banks to recharge your cell phone, a shovel, and sand or cat litter for traction.
  • Clear snow and ice off your vehicle before getting on the road.

If storm conditions become too dangerous to continue driving, pull off the road when it’s safe to do so and wait out the storm.

Liability for a Weather-Related Car Accident in Canada

While it may seem like no one can have liability for a car accident caused by bad weather, motorists may bear responsibility for causing a crash that occurs in adverse weather and road conditions. Even when bad weather reduces visibility or makes the road slippery, a driver may have liability for an accident if they fail to adjust their driving behaviors in response to adverse conditions. For example, a motorist who doesn’t slow down in bad weather but continues to drive at or just above the speed limit may have liability if they crash into another vehicle because they spun out or couldn’t stop in time to avoid a collision. 

When a driver denies fault for an accident, claiming that it occurred because of the weather, other evidence may help show that the driver’s failure to adjust their behavior behind the wheel contributed to the accident. Examples of evidence that may help you prove liability for a weather-related car accident include:

  • Police accident reports
  • Accident scene photos/videos, including photos of weather and road conditions
  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Surveillance/traffic camera or dashcam footage of the accident
  • Driver cell phone records
  • GPS records
  • Logs from vehicles’ event data recorders
  • Accident reconstruction expert reports

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer After a Crash in Bad Weather

When you’ve had a car accident in inclement weather, a car accident lawyer can help you determine whether you may have a legal claim to financial recovery. Contact Wagners today for an initial consultation. You can learn more about your rights to recover compensation for injuries and losses you suffered in a car crash due to another party’s negligence.

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