Driving with the highest degree of care for Missouri winter weather

Motor vehicle accidents caused by negligent or reckless drivers create the basis for personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits when appropriate.

Everyone expects that there will be more fender benders in winter weather, but winter road conditions up the ante when it comes to a driver's duty to keep others safe from injury. Missouri law requires drivers to operate their vehicles with the "highest degree of care." Namely, a driver must drive in a "careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care."

When a driver fails to meet this standard and causes a motor vehicle accident, he or she will be legally liable for the resulting injuries and property damage. If the at-fault driver causes the death of another person in such a crash, the surviving loved ones may file a wrongful death lawsuit.

In addition, violation of this statutory standard of care can result in a misdemeanor charge.

Highest degree of care in winter driving

Winter causes several reasons for concern when it comes to safe driving. Roads can be slippery from sometimes hidden or black ice. Blowing snow can impair visibility. Snow buildup on the road can hide road markings. Safety features on cars can break down like wipers or defrosters. What is safe driving in dry, sunny conditions can endanger others in the winter season.

In other words, exercising the highest degree of care while driving in the winter may at times require different and sometimes more complex driving practices and judgment calls than a driver would need to use to meet the standard in the summer on a dry road.

The Missouri Department of Transportation, known as MoDOT, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol provide these tips for winter drivers in the Show-Me state:

  • Winterize your vehicle.
  • Double-check your car or truck by looking again at the condition of tires, windshield wipers and wiper fluid.
  • Postpone your trip if possible until roads have been cleared or weather has improved.
  • Slow down. The posted speed limit may not be safe on ice or sleet. Do not rush.
  • Stay well behind snowplows.
  • Keep windows, lights and mirrors clear and clean.
  • Drive with your lights on.
  • Be careful on bridges, which can be especially icy.
  • Get off the road to a safe place if driving is too dangerous.
  • Increase the distance between you and the car in front of you.

It goes without saying that Missouri drivers in the winter should not engage in driving behavior that would be negligent or illegal even in good weather such as texting while driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Negligence per se

Missouri recognizes the doctrine of negligence per se, which means that if a person violates a statute, the violation is automatic evidence of negligence. This applies to violation of traffic and safety laws like speeding or failing to turn on headlights when the law requires. Violation of a state traffic law would be important evidence in a suit for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of the driving behavior that led to the citation.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol elaborates on its website about state traffic laws that can be violated by reckless or negligent winter driving practices.

Anyone injured in a winter traffic accident should speak with a personal injury attorney about potential legal remedies to recover for medical bills, pain and suffering, damage to the vehicle, lost wages and other damages. The lawyer will conduct a private investigation on behalf of the client to gather important evidence as well as conduct negotiations with involved insurance parties and the other party's lawyers. When necessary, legal counsel will vigorously advocate for the injured client in the courtroom.

The attorneys at Harper, Evans, Wade & Netemeyer in Springfield represent the victims of motor vehicle accidents throughout the state of Missouri.