Everyone who has driven during a New England winter knows that operating a motor vehicle during bad weather takes an increased level of vigilance. However, truck drivers are required to be even more vigilant and cautious than the rest of us during bad weather. This makes sense: trucks are easier to lose control of, and a truck skidding across a road can quickly turn into a catastrophe.
Hazardous weather is a common cause of truck accident cases. Below is a description of rules that truckers and trucking companies must follow when there is rain, snow, ice, fog, or any other bad weather condition.
Extreme Caution In Hazardous Conditions
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require drivers to use “extreme caution” when driving under hazardous conditions, “such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction.” 49 CFR § 392.14.
Section 392.14 goes on to explain that, faced with bad weather, drivers have two choices: “Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.” Under this regulation, then, hazardous conditions may require either the reduction of speed or that driving cease altogether, depending on the circumstances. In short, if a truck driver cannot be sure that they will be able to safely stop their vehicle, they need to stop driving.
While § 392.14 does not specifically define “extreme caution,” at least some courts have interpreted the phrase to require that truck drivers abide by a higher standard of care when driving in hazardous conditions. For example, in Crooks v. Sammons Trucking Inc., the Court of Appeal of California, Third Appellate District, determined that a jury should be instructed that, if a truck driver fails to use “extreme caution” in the midst of hazardous conditions, the driver violates the standard of care.
Speed In Hazardous Conditions
The CDL Manual—which all commercial vehicle drivers must follow—has more specific guidance on driving on wet roads. Specifically, section 2.6.2 states:
Slippery Surfaces. It will take longer to stop, and it will be harder to turn without skidding, when the road is slippery. Wet roads can double stopping distance. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Reduce speed by about one-third (e.g., slow from 55 to about 35 mph) on a wet road. On packed snow, reduce speed by a half, or more. If the surface is icy, reduce speed to a crawl and stop driving as soon as you can safely do so.
Trucking companies are required to train truck drivers on these rules, and to take whatever steps possible to ensure their drivers follow them.
Rain, snow, and sleet can also significantly decrease visibility. It may become more difficult for truckers to see other vehicles, and for other vehicles to see them. Truck drivers “should always be able to stop within the distance you can see ahead.” Maine CDL Manual § 2.6.4. If the visibility is too poor for a truck driver to see far enough ahead, the driver is required to get off the road and wait for visibility to improve.