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Blizzard Conditions Don't Excuse Bad Driving

The Montana legislature repealed the old "basic rule" speed statute in 1999. The relevant part of the statute now reads:

Subject to the maximum speed limits set forth in subsection (1), a person shall operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, visibility, weather, and roadway conditions.

Mont. Code Ann. § 61-8-303(3)(emphasis added). In other words, you can never legally drive faster than the posted limit but sometimes the law may require you to drive slower.

Court decisions confirm that the emphasized portions of the statute above mean what they say.

  • "Armstrong was traveling at an excessive rate of speed in view of the icy condition of the highway and did not have his vehicle under proper control. I have no difficulty in finding that Armstrong was negligent and that his negligence was the proximate cause of the collision." Kegel v. United States, 289 F. Supp. 790, 792 (D. Mont. 1968).

  • "While the snow cloud created by defendant's truck undoubtedly caused the other users of the highway inconvenience and annoyance, if the other drivers had exercised the degree of care required under the circumstances, the accident would not have happened. When traveling under snow conditions as they were on the day of the accident, a driver should be alert for approaching vehicles and should take steps to keep his vehicle under control while passing through a snow cloud. Similarly, a driver following such a cloud should remain a safe distance behind, taking into consideration the probability that other vehicles will be coming through the cloud under conditions of reduced visibility." Merithew v. Hill, 167 F. Supp. 320, 327 (D. Mont. 1958).

  • "There is present in this case a striking example of what may happen when the drivers of two heavy vehicles- one weighing 38,000 pounds and the other 21,600 pounds- seem to be trying to follow a time schedule when the roadway is covered with snow and ice, and in a slippery and dangerous condition for travel. The driver of the bus was charged with the exercise of the utmost care and caution for the safety of his passengers, and the driver of the truck had at least the duty of ordinary care in driving his heavy truck and trailer over the public highway, and both of them owed a duty to the public generally of reasonable care in the operation of such equipment which contributes so much to the volume of traffic on the public highways and the ever increasing danger of travel. Every person is bound to an absolute duty to exercise his intelligence to discover and avoid danger that may threaten him." Hennessey v. Burlington Transp. Co., 103 F. Supp. 660, 664 (D. Mont. 1950)

  • It takes longer to stop on snowy, icy streets than it does on dry pavement. Blowing snow makes it harder to see hazards in front of you than it is on a clear warm day. But the law requires you to take these things into account. You don't get to drive as fast. You don't get to follow as closely. And if you fail to conform your driving to the conditions in front of you, don't expect to offer up the slick conditions and blowing snow as an excuse.



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