Bad weather often translates into hazardous road conditions that can make driving dangerous and increase the risk of an accident. To help you stay safe on the road, we’ve enlisted one of IAG’s Claims Technical Specialists, Chris Kiddey, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from motorists at this time of year.
Q: Does my policy cover me for driving in bad weather?
Chris: No policy will contain any exclusion related to bad weather itself and nor will it say anything as explicit as: “… you are not insured if you drive against advice”. However, every motor policy contains a version of the following condition:
“Reasonable care – you must always take reasonable care to avoid circumstances that could result in a claim. You won’t be covered if you are reckless or grossly irresponsible.”
To breach this condition requires more than mere negligence. One of the reasons you have insurance in the first place is to cover your negligence, such as when you’re distracted and rear-end a car in front of you. That’s not a breach of the condition.
Q: What constitutes a breach of ‘reasonable care’?
Chris: The test for whether the reasonable care condition has been breached is to ask objectively whether the act amounted to gross carelessness, gross negligence or recklessness. This carries a high threshold. A good way to put this simply is: if there is a very real, immediate risk and a person turns their mind to that risk and does the deed anyway, that would be considered failure to take reasonable care.
Q: Can you give an example of that?
Chris: Say I own an average car and I’m driving to work. The conditions are terrible – there is snow and ice on the road. I pass a sign saying “chains required beyond this point”. I have no chains and drive on. I lose traction and have an accident. The sign turned my mind to the very real risk and I chose to proceed. This was reckless. My insurer could state that I failed to take reasonable care, and decline my claim. If I stopped and put chains on, or turned around to drive home and then an accident occurred, this would not be considered reckless. In those circumstances, I would be seen to have taken steps to avoid the risk. I would add that failure to take reasonable care must actually cause or contribute to the accident.
Q: Am I covered if I drive through a flooded area?
Chris: My insurer may look at how badly flooded the area was and my knowledge of the area. It may be considered reckless if I decided to drive through water when I had no idea if it was two inches or two foot deep. Considerations would also vary depending on, for example, driving experience and the type of vehicle being used.
Q: The general advice across the news is to stay at home. If I choose to drive and have an accident, what am I covered for?
Chris: If a driver heard such a warning, got into his car, then passed a couple of weather-related accidents but still chose to continue, that would be a failure to take reasonable care because it would have been clear to the driver that the risk was tangible and immediate.
Q: If I see, and ignore, a ‘road closed’ sign put up by the authorities and then have an accident, where do I stand?
Chris: If an authority has seen fit to close the road because of a risk, to drive on that road is almost absolutely going to be considered reckless. If that recklessness then causes or contributes to an accident, then the resulting claim will probably be declined.
It’s worth adding that an insurance policy covers damage from accidents. An ‘accident’ often has its own definition in an insurance policy – something like “unintended and unforeseen by you”. At some point, an insurer could argue that a particular event was not unforeseen – in other words it might have been almost inevitable – and therefore cannot be claimed for. Lastly, it’s really important to remember that insurance can only go so far. People should first and foremost think about the risk to themselves and their families. If I personally was in a situation where I had to think twice about driving – I wouldn’t drive. While some people might think that goes too far, they could at least be sure to:
• Listen regularly to local news and announcements from authorities
• Check driveways for ice before using them
• Drive to the conditions and focus on position within the lane as its untraveled boarders may cause loss of control e.g. extra sludge, ice or deeper snow
• Remember, any grit spread can help traction but does not provide a surface as safe as a normal dry road, so drive much slower than normal
• Make sure tyres and brakes are in good order.