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Too fast for conditions: Sometimes, going the speed limit isn't enough


Justin Stoltzfus

If you're going the speed limit, you may assume you're safe from a speeding ticket. However, if driving conditions are less than optimal, the number on the sign may no longer be valid -- and you could be cited for driving "too fast for conditions."

Driving too fast for conditions means you're exceeding a "reasonable standard" for safe driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In other words, road conditions are such that even the posted limit is too high. Here are some conditions that may require you to slow down:

  • Wet roadways.
  • Reduced visibility from fog or mist.
  • Uneven roads or loose paving such as gravel.
  • Sharp curves.
  • Unusual traffic patterns and road work areas.
  • Heavy traffic.

In any of these conditions, it's harder to stop your car and easier to lose control of it. Slowing down puts more space between your car and the car ahead and helps you stop more quickly.

Drivers who overlook these hazards can receive hefty fines. These are not just arbitrary punitive measures by pen-happy police officers. Data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) show that driving too fast for road conditions accounts for nearly a quarter of all large-truck accidents. In Pennsylvania, 8,000 motorists died in 2010 after driving too fast in adverse conditions, according to the state's Department of Transportation. And, according to Maine's Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), more than 40 percent of winter storm crashes stem from drivers failing to reduce their speed.

The next question that most drivers will ask is this: How fast is too fast for conditions? It all depends on your car, the roads and the conditions involved. MaineDOT recommends asking yourself whether you would be able to stop in time if something were to suddenly occur on the road ahead (a car swerves into your lane, hitting the car directly in front of you, for example). If not, slow down.

If you are driving a large truck, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides these more precise standards:

  • Reduce speed by a third for wet roads.
  • Reduce speed by half on snow-packed roads.

No matter what size your vehicle is, follow these tips:

  • When driving in the rain, keep in mind that water mixes with oil on the road during the beginning of a rainstorm, which can lead to more hydroplaning.
  • Bridges usually freeze first, so be extra careful on bridges and flyovers.
  • Even bright sunlight can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Slow down at night. Darkness makes it more difficult to see -- and react.
  • If visibility is low, use your flashers to help other drivers see you.
Next time your visibility gets obstructed by fog or sheets of rain make roads slick, remember to drive responsibly. Looking out for other motorists will help you avoid auto insurance claims -- and make everyone's drive home safer.

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