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Understanding the Impact of Extreme Weather on Traffic and Driving Culture

Extreme weather events disrupt daily life. Storms, floods, and excessive heat can cause people to alter everyday activities such as driving. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) found that 21% of accidents and 16% of traffic-related fatalities are due to weather conditions. 

Drivers cannot change the weather, but they can take steps to reduce the additional risks associated with traveling in extreme conditions. Here is a closer look at the different hazards you may encounter on the road and how to avoid danger and prepare for the worst-case scenario. 

How Different Types of Weather Can Impact the Road 

Weather impacts driving conditions in several different ways. Drivers need to be aware of all potential hazards when they venture out in bad conditions. The potential dangers include:

  • Poor traction: Snow, ice, and water can limit the ability to start and stop. According to the FHWA, wet pavement is one of the main causes of weather-related accidents
  • Visibility issues: Precipitation and fog may cause drivers to lose visibility. They could either leave the road or hit other vehicles or objects. 
  • Vehicle or road damage: Hot, cold, or wet conditions could cause breakdowns and damage or change the road surface so that it becomes unstable or slippery. 
  • Loss of control: High winds can push vehicles off the road or move them into other cars. The driver won’t be able to steer out of the situation. 

More extreme events like hurricanes sometimes damage cars, wash them away, or leave them stranded in unsafe areas due to road damage or flooding.  

Here is a closer look at the different hazards associated with specific weather events. 


The FHWA estimates that 70% of the nation’s roads are in regions that experience snowfall. Drivers in these areas could experience slippery roads from ice, snow, or wet surfaces. Compacted snow can remain on the roadway long after a blizzard ends, and it’s not uncommon to see snow melt and refreeze in areas with warmer days and colder nights. 

Traction issues are the most obvious snow-storm-related hazard, but visibility can also cause accidents. White-out conditions occur during heavy snowfall or in a storm with high winds. Meanwhile, blizzard conditions may arise during a snowfall, but they might also happen afterward when high winds blow fallen snow across roadways. 

Finally, heavy snowfall can render roads impassable, with drifts trapping vehicles and forcing drivers and passengers to wait for rescue. 

Experienced drivers know to slow down and avoid sudden steering changes to keep from skidding on ice or snow. Drivers are required to adjust their driving for the conditions. Even with these precautions, poor traction can lead to rear-end accidents. Those who fail to make adjustments can cause more severe incidents like rollovers or T-bone accidents.  

A good accident lawyer will collect details and assess liability following a snow-related accident. 


Heatwaves sit at the other end of the climate spectrum from snowstorms. Drivers can experience stress in hot weather, with the discomfort causing concentration lapses that could lead to accidents. 

Also, older roads aren’t built to expand in high heat, so they buckle or heave, creating uneven surfaces that can launch cars off the road and cause the driver to lose control.

Tire blowout risks rise in hot weather. Tires are built to withstand high heat, but their pressure naturally rises as the temperature heats up, increasing the risk of a blowout. Heat can also affect the engine, with older cars and those without proper levels of coolant in danger of overheating and leaving the driver stranded on the side of the road. 

Serious accident risks also rise during the summer, with 30% of all fatal crashes happening between June and August, so heatwaves exacerbate what is already a dangerous season on the road. 

Serious accidents in summer can have an ongoing impact on your health. For instance, a rear-end collision could cause whiplash or back injuries. Higher-speed collisions may lead to head injuries, such as concussions. In any injury accident, you need to consult a lawyer to build a case seeking compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages. 


Floods are hazardous, especially if the floodwaters are moving rapidly. Heavy rains or overflowing waterways might wash away roads or compromise their structure so that they collapse under the weight of vehicles. 

If the water is moving fast enough, it can sweep vehicles off the road. Even if it is stagnant or slow-moving, drivers will have a hard time judging the depth. They may end up stranded in the middle of a flooded area if the water gets too deep for their vehicle. 

Even if heavy rains do not flood the roadway, they make the pavement slippery and cause road spray that limits visibility. There is also a danger of hydroplaning, which occurs when fast-moving cars lose contact on a flooded road and slide across the water like a waterski. 

In addition to car accidents, summer sees many motorcycle accidents as two-wheelers hit the road in the warm weather. Increased shipping activity also leads to more truck accidents and commercial vehicle crashes


Fog reduces visibility, increasing the risk of a collision. This hazard can be difficult to avoid because it occurs in specific places, like low-lying areas, even though the other stretches of road on your journey are clear. 

Non-drivers are also at risk. Cars may see other vehicles but might not pick out others on the road. Pedestrian accidents and bicycle collisions due to fog are often serious, even if they occur at low speeds. While a walker or rider is likely to be the only injured party in such accidents, the driver might not be liable depending on the circumstances. A personal injury lawyer can help sort out the details of the case. 

Steps To Take To Stay Safe on the Road 

Precautions help limit the dangers associated with driving during extreme weather. While common sense steps like lowering your speed can help, you should also practice situational awareness to avoid potentially dangerous circumstances. Also, preparing for the worst-case scenario before you go out in poor conditions will help you handle any challenges you might encounter on the roads. 

Here is a closer look at these safety steps. 

Slow Down and Avoid Unnecessary, Risky Situations 

You need to adjust your speed to account for driving difficulties. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suggests lowering your speed by ⅓ on wet roads and ½ on snow-packed surfaces. The agency also says to start slowing down before entering a curve or exit ramp. This will allow you to keep control as you make steering adjustments or hit the brakes. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends increasing your following distance behind other vehicles and turning around if conditions seem impassable. For instance, you should not attempt to cross flooded roads if you are unsure of the depth. 

Always Check the Weather Before Going Out 

You should be aware of the weather forecast before going out. This step will help you prepare mentally to adjust your driving habits, and it will help you ensure you have the necessary supplies, tools, or equipment for the worst possible scenario. 

Be Prepared for Any Emergencies 

The worst possible situation won’t usually occur, but if it does, your safety depends on being prepared. You can keep the necessary supplies in your car, including:

  • First aid kit;
  • Emergency supplies like food and water;
  • Battery pack to charge devices; 
  • Flashlight;
  • Flares or emergency lights;
  • Blankets or heaters to stay warm (in winter);
  • Something to provide shade in summer; 
  • Emergency contact numbers for your insurer, family members, and law enforcement. 

You should have a fully-charged cell phone so that you have a means of communication in an emergency.

Contact an Experienced Attorney 

Accident cases involving hazardous weather and driving conditions are often more complex in terms of assigning liability and getting a settlement. Experienced accident attorneys can collect evidence and help you build a case, negotiate with insurers, and seek a fair settlement.