Your fault, or the ice?

New winter tires are installed, I have anti-lock brakes, I pay taxes for road maintenance services and never exceed the posted speed limit. 

Who is at fault if I hit a patch of ice and slide into another vehicle?

Certainly not me! It was “an accident” that could have happened to anybody. The roads were really treacherous that day and there were lots of “accidents”.

We live in Canada. Ice and snow will occur on our roads. Road maintenance vehicles can’t be everywhere, all the time. It’s inevitable that we will encounter ice and lose control of our vehicles at some point.

It’s the fault of the road conditions. News headlines say: “Icy roads cause crashes." 

That weekend, visiting with friends, I tell my “war story” of losing control on ice like it’s a badge of honour. 

Others jump in to tell their stories: “There was this time when I was on the Coquihalla and I did a complete 360. Thank goodness there wasn’t a big truck right behind me."

I am surrounded by the loving concern of those who care about me: “We are so thankful you weren’t hurt”.

We accept, as inevitable, that vehicles on roads will result in crashes, and winter road conditions will result in an increase in those crashes.

That attitude of inevitability reduces our sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Inevitably, that leads to more crashes.

It is an attitude that is not shared by those tasked with assessing and assigning liability and accountability in our society: judges.

Put simply, the law says that if I have a reason to expect that the road surface might be slippery, I am required to drive slowly enough that I won’t slide on it.

What about situations where the roads are so treacherous that the slope of a hill might cause me to slide, even if I am moving at a crawl? The law covers that situation, too. I am required to stop, and not go down that hill.

These legal principles can be found in the 2013 case of Tran v. Edbrooke, 2013 BCSC 1802. E-mail me if you want a link to it.

Aren’t those legal principles simply common sense? Do we need judges to be reminded of the obvious?

We know that road surfaces can change drastically over the course of your commute.

That's particularly in the Okanagan where we are often hovering around the freezing point, we have significant changes in elevation, and it’s impossible to expect that all roads are salted/sanded.

If we know that, why are we not continually assessing the road surface and adjusting our speed accordingly? Perhaps it’s because we’re generally not used to being continually attentive when behind the wheel?

At all times, we are responsible to ensure that we have control over the thousands of pounds vehicle we are driving. 

It is our responsibility to ensure that we are moving slow enough and leaving enough room between us and other vehicles that we can keep ourselves and other road users safe.

Next time we hear someone telling their story of having lost control on ice, how about use it as an opportunity to remind each other of these responsibilities. 

It is not a badge of honour.  It is an utter failure of the serious responsibilities we have as road users.


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About the Author

Paul Hergott began practicing law in 1995, in a general litigation practice. Of the various areas of litigation, he became most drawn to, and passionate about, pursuing fair compensation for injured victims. This gradually became his exclusive area of practice.

In 2007, Paul opened Hergott Law, a boutique personal injury law firm in the Central Interior, serving personal injury clients from all over British Columbia. Paul’s practice is restricted to acting only for the injured victim, never for ICBC or for other insurance companies.

Paul became a weekly newspaper columnist in January of 2007, when his first column entitled “It’s not about screwing the Insurance Company” was published. 

Please feel free to email or call Paul (1.855.437.4688) with legal issues you might like him to write about in his column, or to offer your feedback about something he has written.

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