Winter driving conditions in BC can be challenging at the best of times. Such issues are often in dispute with respect to the cause of automobile accidents. The chance of being injured or killed in a collision dramatically increases during BC’s winter driving season, which runs from October 1st to April 30th. The average number of collisions whereby a person is injured or dies as a result of driving too fast for the road conditions also nearly doubles from fall to early winter in BC. The incidence of collisions increases with the volume of vehicles on the road, with densely populated urban centres having the highest collision rates.
In preparing a personal injury case, the legal counsel of either or both parties will draw attention to the need for extra caution suitable for the road conditions and may try to argue that the other party failed to exercise necessary extra caution. The posted speed limit, for example, is set only for ideal driving conditions and a reduction in speed is necessary where poor road conditions are present. Failure to recognize or adequately respond to road hazards such as black ice, snow, rain, low light or fog can lead to partial or full liability for a resulting personal injury. Either or both parties could put forth the “inevitable accident” proposition, which places the onus on the claimant to prove that the accident could not have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care. Such defence may be successful where a sudden change in weather conditions flooded a low lying bridge or created an unanticipated patch of black ice near the water front. Other examples where an accident may be inevitable include a stray animal appearing at the last moment on the highway or a driver losing consciousness at the wheel. For this claim to be successful, the claimant bears the burden of proving that he or she exercised reasonable care. For example, the claimant must not have been driving after ingesting medication known to cause drowsiness or ignoring warning signs of imminent health symptoms if he or she argues that he or she bears no responsibility because there was insufficient reaction time available to prevent the collision. If there is evidence that the defendant knew, or ought reasonably to have anticipated, the presence of the conditions in question, the defence of inevitable accident will usually fail. For example, a defendant who drove the 100km posted speed limit during a snowstorm and rear-ended another driver could have mitigated the conditions by driving slower. In a negligence claim, either party may be found liable for contributing to the accident on a number of grounds, such as failing to pay attention to surroundings. For example, a plaintiff may have failed to avoid a collision by being distracted while using a hand held device. Failing to meet the vehicle safety standards also can impute liability if the battery, brakes, lights, fuses, cooling and heating systems, electrical and exhaust systems and belts, hoses and wipers or tires were not in good condition and their improper functioning contributed to the accident. Another possible argument in a negligence action is “volenti non fit injura,” which means “no injury can be done to a willing person;” one cannot expect the other to be wholly liable for an incident if he or she knew and consented to the risk of harm. For example, one cannot claim the other was solely responsible for a loss if he or she chose to ride as passenger where it was known that the seatbelt was jammed or otherwise not working properly. As another example, one cannot claim the other was solely responsible for a loss if found to be driving without wearing proper footwear (e.g., wearing ice skates or ski boots), which resulted in poor reaction time to using the brakes properly. A valid but less frequently used argument in a negligence action is “ex turpi causa non oritur action,” which means “no right of action arises from an illegal or moral cause.” For example, one cannot claim the other was solely responsible for a loss if he or she engaged in criminal activity at the time of the collision (e.g., under the influence of illegal drugs or driving a stolen vehicle). Proactive measures are in place to reduce the number of winter driving collisions resulting from worker related driving accidents. An employer must know and understand the requirement of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act and Regulations, the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and provide safety training to drivers. He or she must meet the standard and tests of “due diligence” and is responsible to protect the well-being of his or her employees, including if an employee drives a personal vehicle or is on the road for work infrequently. There is a requirement to assess when work driving is necessary, to prepare drivers for the conditions, and to provide a winter driving survival checklist. The ICBC has prepared an employer winter driving safety planning toolkit at their website. Much information is available for individuals to prepare themselves for safe winter driving in BC, sponsored by the Winter Driving Safety Alliance, including WorkSafeBC, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Justice Institute of British Columbia BC Road Builders (Highway Maintenance Contractors). Tips and information from the Winter Driving Safety Alliance website, includes links to latest highway conditions, highway cameras, delay information, weather route forecasts and current conditions, a free download, how to prepare your vehicle and how to drive for the conditions among other valuable resources. Greater preparation for winter driving conditions will help residents reduce or avoid BC winter driving collisions and resultant personal injury claims and cases.