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Winter driving may require driving slower to avoid liability

Massachusetts drivers are all too familiar with the cold winters filled with snow and ice. With winter just around the corner, a quick reminder of how the winter can mean dangerous roads and serious car accidents may be worthwhile.

A legally acceptable rate of speed on the road may not be what a driver reads on a road sign. It may be far lower.

Weather conditions can reduce what is a safe rate of speed

The 2017 highway catastrophe that involved 55 vehicles, causing over half of them to need towing and multiple casualties, is a stern reminder of what the speed limit is and what it is not. When driving, the posted speed limit is an absolute maximum. However, an operator of a vehicle must limit his or her rate of travel to that speed beyond which he cannot safely operate his vehicle given current road conditions.

When visibility is worse than usual due to weather, including falling snow, traveling the posted speed limit may still mean one is legally traveling too fast. Likewise, if the roadway is slicker than on a dry, precipitation-free day, that unquantified speed limit may be far lower than the posted limit found on the sign on the side of the highway.

Proper and reasonable speed takes precedence over posted limit

A driver who is traveling faster than road conditions allow may be a negligent and responsible party to an automobile collision even if he is not exceeding the posted speed limit. Automobile operators owe all others a duty of care to drive safely and lawfully. If driving the posted speed is not safe, then that driver may be violating a legal duty of care. The violating driver can be liable for the damages that befall anyone who suffers an injury by that less-than-safe driving speed.

Massachusetts law under Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 17 makes this clear that any speed greater than what is proper and reasonable can be a violation. Each driver has an express legal duty to reduce speed regardless of posted speed limit if a special hazard exists. A special hazard may include the presence of pedestrians but may also include other traffic, weather or conditions of the highway.

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