Speeding is often the single most important fact in establishing liability in most automobile accident cases. While driving at the posted speed limit on a highway, street, or road is oftentimes evidence of safe speed, there are some instances when driving at the posted speed limit is unreasonable and result in civil liability for the driver. By way of example, if an injury victim is struck on Interstate 93 by a vehicle driving at the posted speed limit of 65 MPH, does the driver who struck the injury victim have as a defense that she was traveling at the posted speed limit at the time of the accident? The answer depends on the circumstances existing at the time of the accident.
Under New Hampshire law, RSA 265:60 states “No person shall drive a vehicle on a way at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” The Statute states further that the posted speed limits are only applicable “where no hazard exists that requires lower speed for compliance with the preceding provision”. Accordingly, under New Hampshire law, the posted speed limit does not apply in all circumstances.
Similarly, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, Section 17 limits a person from operating her automobile on any public way “at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper, having regard to traffic and the use of the way and the safety of the public.” The Statute goes on to state further that “every person operating a motor vehicle shall decrease the speed of the same when a special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic, or by reason of weather or highway conditions.” So, like New Hampshire, Massachusetts law requires motorists to drive slower than posted speed limits when circumstances require it.
Weather conditions such as snow, ice, rain, sleet, fog, wind, etc. often require drivers to decrease speeds. Similarly, sun glare, snow drifts, and other conditions which impair visibility require drivers to drive at speeds lower than the posted speed limits. Defects in the road such as grooved pavement or debris in the roadway may also require drivers to decrease speed lower than the posted speed limit. With this in mind, to answer the question raised above, if the driver causing the accident was driving 65 MPH during a snowstorm, torrential rains, in fog, or in other conditions that makes driving the posted speed limit was unreasonable, then she will likely be held responsible for the injury victim’s damage even though she was driving at the posted speed limit.
In representing injury victims it is important that the attorney be fully aware of the rules of the road and the laws as they apply to automobile safety. Hamblett & Kerrigan has a long history of representing injury victims in automobile/car accident cases. Let Hamblett & Kerrigan use their experience to your advantage.
Kevin P. Rauseo is a former director at Hamblett & Kerrigan P.A. and has since been appointed as a Justice for the New Hampshire Circuit Court. Please feel free to contact another attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan to discuss your legal issues.