A Billings Car Accident Lawyer Explains
As winter bears down on Montana, the state has experienced an apparent spike in fatal car accidents. This makes understanding the rules of the road and best practices for driving in snow and ice all the more critical this winter.
As of this writing, finalized data for 2021 is not yet readily available. However, anecdotal evidence suggests the surge is real. Throughout the year, Montana Highway Patrol Troopers have been quoted by local news organizations identifying snow and ice as leading factors in deadly crashes.
In an effort to improve road safety and save lives, motorists are being reminded how to share the road with other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians as well as how to adapt to the updated "Move Over" law when the streets are covered in snow and ice.
Sharing an Icy, Snow-Packed Road
Driving safely in the snow when roads are narrowed by drifts and slick with ice is a skill that many people in Billings and throughout Montana have developed. Still, auto accidents happen.
To reduce accident risk, give yourself extra time to get where you're going, pack an emergency kit full of warm clothes, food, water, and high-visibility emergency markers, and share the road.
The following are some tips on how to share the road - even when there's a lot less of it.
Keep Your Lights On And Stay Alert
When the weather is bad, there are typically fewer pedestrians and cyclists on the roadway, but some people still need to travel this way in poor weather. This means drivers need to keep scanning the roadway for these vulnerable people. Drive slow, especially when snow, fog, and ice reduce visibility. Keep your headlights on so that you are easier to spot. Always yield to pedestrians and cyclists.
Give Them Space
The more room you put between you and the vehicles around you, the more time you have to react to sudden stops, slips, or debris in the roadway. Safety advocates suggest doubling how much space you usually keep between you and the vehicle in front when roads are icy. When it comes to pedestrians and cyclists, state transportation officials say motorists should give them at least 3-5 feet of space when passing. In the winter, if you can, increase the amount of space you give to non-motorists you pass.
Montana's tougher, expanded Move Over law went into effect in October 2021. The intent of the legislation is to save emergency-responder lives. It requires motorists to move over to a nonadjacent (not touching) lane when emergency responders are attending to an accident or are otherwise working. After a tragic roadside accident killed two workers, the law was expanded to protect tow truck operators responding to emergencies, too. Fines for violating Move Over were raised to up to $100.
When There Is No Lane You Can 'Move Over' To
When snow and ice pile up, it narrows roadways and makes "moving over" more difficult. When there is no lane available to move to, the law requires drivers to slow down and move as far away from the emergency responders as possible when passing. If it is not safe, or there is not enough room, do not pass. A police officer or flagger will most likely arrive soon to direct traffic.
Passing Pedestrians & Cyclists
When passing a pedestrian or cyclist in the snow, again, slow down and try to give them more than the standard 5 feet of space from your vehicle. Slow down as much as you need to so that you feel confident you will not harm, brush, or frighten pedestrians or cyclists while passing. Do not honk to alert people on foot or bike to your presence - it's more distracting than helpful, safety officials say.
If You've Been Injured, Talk to an Attorney
Bad winter weather frequently leads to serious injury-causing and deadly car accidents. However, this is not an excuse or defense for an at-fault driver who has hit you. After all, you can't file a claim against Mother Nature.
Regardless of almost all outside factors, drivers in Montana are responsible for operating their motor vehicles safely. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a winter weather-related accident, it is important that you understand your right to seek fair compensation for your losses.
At Braukmann Law, PLLC, attorney Matt Braukmann knows how to investigate accidents, build strong cases, and aggressively advocate for the compensation his clients need and deserve.
Learn how our law firm can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced Billings car accident attorney.