Texas weather is unpredictable. One minute, the sun is shining, the next, temperatures drop and rain can start falling. These types of variant weather conditions are typically seen during the spring, when warm and cool winds mix, thought they're sometimes seen in summer and winter, too. Such was the case this past February 15th, when what seemed to be a normal day turned into a frenzy of tornado warnings, flash flood alerts, and power outages.
Dangerous Weather Conditions
If you live in North Texas, you're familiar with the severity of our storms. Take this past weekend as an example: according to the National Weather Service, winds up to 70 mph and flash flooding were recorded in at least four North Texas counties, including Tarrant and Dallas.
Furthermore, a spokesman for the electric service “Oncor” commented that over 22,000 power outages occurred in Tarrant, Collin, and Dallas counties. As if not already remarkable, the Associated Press expressed that only 60 miles southwest from Fort Worth a tornado had made contact with land. Sport fans who were present at Sunday night’s football match watching the Dallas Cowboys face the Green Bay Packers were told to seek shelter through the stadium’s giant screens. According to witnesses, stadium security guards then suggested for fans to exit the stadium and seek more secure shelter to prevent the stadium’s glass from injuring them (in the event of strong winds or hail damaging it).
Power Outages and Traffic Lights
Just as hail, broken trees, and flooded drains are common during strong storms, so are power outages. Power outages can occur for several reasons. The most notable cause for power outages is due to the emergency shut-off of power lines being directed to-and-from power plants to prevent short circuits and fires from occurring. This is usually followed by the next reason why power outages occur, which is because of an object, such as a tree, interfering or damaging a power line or fuse/junction box. Although relatively safe from shocking residents and bystanders, power outages can pose other types of dangers, such as shutting off the power to run a four-way intersection.
Accidents occurring at intersections where a power outage has temporarily eliminated the power of traffic lights are typically caused by driver error. When a power outage happens, an intersection’s traffic lights can do one of two things. First, traffic lights can activate a safety mode where either the yellow or red light is flashing in every direction. Normal operation of the traffic light can resume after an electrician has solved the cause of the power outage. Second, traffic lights can turn off. Although the first scenario is typically what occurs, the second scenario can bring about terrible wrecks. Therefore, the question arise: who would be considered at-fault (responsible for causing an automobile accident) if a wreck occurs in a power outage situation?
Wrecks, Accidents, and Confusion
First, we must go back to the basics of driving. Drivers are taught, either by their city’s driving manual or a driving course, that when an intersection has flashing lights in every direction, they must treat the intersection as a four-way stop. Using the basics of a four-way stop, drivers can proceed or turn on a first-come basis. Failure to do so could confuse other drivers and can cause multiple accidents to occur, especially if there are strong rains and winds present.
Take the following scenario as an example. Driver A is driving southbound in a major road during a heavy storm. Driver A notices that the traffic lights are not working as they typically do and the red light is flashing in all directions. Driver A comes to a complete stop at the intersection. Driver A came to the intersection, and because the driver is the first one to arrive, Driver A chooses to turn left (westbound). Everything seems to being going as planned, when all of a sudden, Driver B, who is traveling northbound, does not notice the flashing red traffic lights because of the heavy rains and does not stop at the intersection. As Driver B proceeds, he impacts Driver A, who has already started to turn.
Who is At-Fault?
In the fictional scenario provided above, Driver B would be considered at-fault for two main reasons. First, he failed to stop at the intersection, acknowledge the emergency traffic lights, and check if other drivers were turning or proceeding onto the perpendicular intersections. Second, because Driver A was the first driver at the intersection and Driver B was at a distance, Driver A would be protected because he treated the intersection as a driver should, which was treating it as a four-way stop.
An accident investigation could connect the mentioned points together, Driver A would be considered the “victim,” and Driver B would be considered “at-fault”. Essentially, the intersection with the traffic light would be treated as a four-way stop in an investigation, which with the help of evidence, could clearly point to who was at-fault for causing the accident, regardless of the weather conditions at that time.
Can Culpability Be Flexible in a Weather-Related Crash?
Although it may appear as an honest mistake, the reality is that the great majority of car wrecks can be avoided. It is up to drivers to take appropriate actions when it comes to driving in heavy weather conditions, such as in heavy rains and strong winds. While the people involved in the accident appear to have been the victims of dangerous weather conditions, the truth is that insurance companies will not treat the accident lighter in terms of who was at-fault. Injuries are injuries, which means that the accident must be treated as it occurred and leaving aside any possible “feelings of mistakes” that the at-fault driver may hold.