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Winter weather auto accidents


Question: Is it just me or do more accidents take place in the wintertime?  I live in Minnesota; is there any data you can give me? 

Answer: As a general rule, winter weather road conditions -- such as snow, sleet and slush -- tend to bring about more auto accidents.

Black ice and other hazardous winter driving situations can cause drivers to lose control of their car and have an accident more easily. I hear a lot from drivers involved in minor fender-benders and single-car accidents during the winter months.

You happen to live in an area that is especially hit hard by winter weather. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources finds that the annual snowfall in Minnesota varies from 26 inches in the southwest to more than 70 inches along Lake Superior.

This snowfall information goes hand-in-hand with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) 2012 traffic information that says because of severe weather December had the most crashes reported – 8,099 -- of any month that year.

Winter weather accident statistics

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) keeps track of fatal car crashes across the country.  This federal agency breaks down the data by various criteria, including weather conditions. 

The latest information is from 2011, and it found that:

  • 26,458 fatal accidents in normal weather conditions
  • 2,042 fatal accidents in rainy conditions
  • 595 fatal car crashes that had weather conditions including snow, sleet, hail or blowing snow
  • 406 fatal crashes in “other” conditions -- including fog, smoke, blowing sand and severe crosswinds
  • 256 fatal accidents in unknown weather condition

This shows about 2 percent of fatalities nationwide being due to winter weather.

Remember these are just reported accidents; the NHTSA says it’s estimated that about half the motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. go unreported.

Most states keep their own statistics regarding crashes as well, Minnesota is no exception. The DPS here each year summarizes the crashes occurring on Minnesota roadways.  The state then analyzes the data and to determine future traffic safety initiatives.

The Minnesota DPS broke down auto accidents by road surface condition and found 5,011 crashes were on roads with snow or slush. Another 5,677 car crashes were on roads with ice or packed snow.

In its analysis of auto accidents, the DPS found that 16 percent of fatal crashes and 24 percent of injury crashes occurred on road surfaces reported being wet, covered with snow or slush or with ice or packed snow.

Winter weather causes you to crash

If winter road conditions cause you have an at-fault auto accident, then your state-mandated liability coverages will cover those that you harmed.  Your property damage liability will cover someone else’s car or other property (such as a guardrail or fence) that you damaged.  (See "The 7 deadly sins of winter driving")

Minnesota is a no-fault state so each party’s own personal injury protection (PIP) coverage would be used for injuries.  If you were at-fault for injuring someone else and that party’s PIP limits are exceeded, then your bodily injury liability coverages could be claimed against.

For your own vehicle, you’d need collision coverage to file a claim with your insurer.

After paying your deductible, your car insurance company should pay the remainder of the repair costs.  Or, your insurer may find that the car is a total loss and pay you actual cash value for the vehicle, minus your deductible amount.

Typically, if you’re the one who lost control – even if it were due to a weather-related condition like black ice – you’ll be found at-fault by insurance companies for the accident.  This means your rates could rise due to a surcharge at your next renewal.

If your car insurance rates do rise due to an accident and its resulting claims, then it’s time comparison shop. You may be able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year by shopping around and finding the car insurance company that offers the best rates for your particular situation.

More articles from Penny Gusner


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