Did you know there are times when you could get a ticket for speeding even if you're not driving over the posted limit? If you get in an accident when the weather is bad or road conditions are poor, a police officer might cite you for driving "too fast for conditions."
The U.S. Department of Transportation defines driving too fast for conditions as "traveling at a speed that is greater than a reasonable standard for safe driving." In other words, sometimes the posted speed limit isn't safe enough. As a driver, you're required by law to reduce your speed when the conditions warrant it.
For example, it's harder to keep a vehicle under control when the roads are wet, snowy or icy. In the first hour or so after a rainstorm, for example, pavement is particularly dangerous because the oil from the asphalt combines with the falling rain to create a slick traveling surface, making it easier for vehicles to skid, according to the Department of Transportation. If it's been raining for several hours and there's water on the roadway, your tires could lose contact with the road when you brake because they ride on that layer of water rather than the pavement. Under these conditions, your car may fishtail, leave the road or hit another vehicle. Snow and ice create similar driving challenges.
Driving at night or in foggy conditions also gives you less time to see and react to obstacles on the road. Even driving into the sun at sunrise or sunset might call for a reduced speed, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Then there are the hazards on the road itself -- construction zones, curves, gravel, potholes -- that can make traveling at normal speeds dangerous. If you cause an accident because you were traveling 45 miles per hour around a sharp curve in the road, you could get a ticket.
Maine's Department of Transportation found that illegal or unsafe speed is a factor in almost 40 percent of all fatal crashes in the state. Hundreds in Maine have lost their lives in crashes that resulted from driving too fast for conditions -- and most of those crashes happened because the driver left the lane. Young people are the biggest offenders, Maine's transportation department found. More than half of the 16- to 21-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes had been traveling too fast.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has some similar statistics, reporting that 23 percent of all large-truck crashes in the United States occurred when truck drivers were traveling too fast for conditions.
So, how slowly should you go when weather conditions are bad? The California Department of Motor Vehicles recommends reducing speeds by five to 10 miles per hour when driving on wet roads and by one-half or more when driving on snowy roads. If you hit ice, reduce your speed to a crawl. When driving at night or when there's sunlight glare, adjust your speed to allow enough space to brake safely.