Driving in wet conditions can be hazardous, but you have a better chance of staying safe if you prepare for wet weather. To help you stay safer on the roads, IAG Claims Technical Specialist Chris Kiddey has answered the five most frequently asked questions we receive from motorists about driving in poor weather conditions. We’ve also got some useful tips to help you avoid a collision on the road during heavy rainfall and flooding.
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. In general, that wouldn’t be considered 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: 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:
- Slow down. According to NZ Transport Agency, one of the most common causes of a wet weather crash is driving too fast. Reduce your speed to 10kph below the legal limit;
- Keep your distance from the car in front to reduce the risk of a crash. Vehicles need up three times more stopping distance on wet roads than in dry conditions;
- Stay tuned to your local radio station for the latest traffic updates and information on road conditions;
- Drive to the conditions and focus on position within the lane as its untraveled borders may cause loss of control e.g. floodwater;
- Make sure tyres and brakes are in good order. Replace windscreen wipers that are worn or damaged to give yourself the best chance of being able to see clearly in wet weather.
- Stock your car with a portable emergency survival kit including items such as emergency water, spare batteries for a torch and a list of emergency numbers and important contacts. The New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s Get Thru Get Ready website has useful information on how to prepare emergency plans and kits: www.getthru.govt.nz. You can also follow them on Twitter: @NZGetThru;
- If you hear about severe weather warning in advance, go and get a full tank of gas. If flooding occurs, you may not get another chance to fill up;
- If you don’t have to drive, stay off the road.
In the unfortunate circumstance that you need to make a motor vehicle claim and you’re an IAG customer, contact us here:
Telephone: 0800 80 24 24
Telephone: 0800 100 200
Telephone: 0800 800 800
Contact your broker or telephone: 0800 227 653
Telephone: 0800 111 888 (office hours) or 0800 801 210 (after hours).
If you have a question about cover while driving in hazardous conditions, post it in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to respond to you as soon as possible.