Speed limits exist to remind drivers of the safe and appropriate speed for which to travel in a given area of a road or highway. What some drivers are not aware of, however, is that Washington state law actually says first and foremost that “no person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions.”
Posted speed limits are a safe general guide for motorists, but they also come with the caveat that the roads are in safe driving condition and traffic is not a significant factor. In the event that one of these conditions changes, state law expects motorists to adapt and drive at a reasonable speed for those conditions.
Let’s face it: the weather is an issue in Washington state. Rain, sleet, snow, ice, hail, wind, smoke – you name it, we’ve seen it. And all of these weather conditions can affect visibility, the ability to stop a vehicle, the ability to make sudden movements or turns, and other maneuvers.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to drive in the weather, either. That’s why the language of RCW 46.61.400 includes the words “reasonable and prudent.” Drivers are expected to act reasonably and prudently based on the weather conditions at the time, plain and simple.
Similarly, it’s important to consider traffic conditions when determining a safe speed at which to drive a vehicle. Of course, traffic conditions can sometimes be less predictable than weather conditions. Traffic may change drastically from one section of a road or highway to the next, so drivers should constantly be evaluating their speed against new developments in traffic.
If you are the only one on the highway, it’s hard to argue against driving at the posted speed limit. Conversely, heavy traffic typically means it’s impossible to drive fast anyway, especially in Seattle. The in-between stage, when traffic is congested but not necessarily stop-and-go, is where people can sometimes get into trouble.
A good general rule is to always allow 2-3 car lengths between your front bumper and the next vehicle in front of you. Keeping this guideline in mind should help reduce your chances of being involved in a collision.
Keeping Both Factors In Mind
In Seattle, chances are high that both weather and traffic conditions will impact your drive on a daily basis. Expecting traffic and weather to be a variable can help drivers be better prepared for unforeseen circumstances and, hopefully, reduce their chances of being in an accident.
Failing to follow the law’s directive on reasonable and prudent driving behavior not only increases a person’s chances of being in an accident, but can also lead to difficult legal situations as well. Driving too fast for conditions is a traffic offense punishable by a citation along with a fine.
Driving too fast for conditions is also one of the most commonly-cited mistakes made by at-fault drivers in car accidents. If you cause an accident because you were driving too fast for the weather or traffic conditions at the time, you could find yourself on the defense end of a personal injury lawsuit.