Driving in Winter Weather

Winter’s here. Dispatch has the idea that there is no such thing as road conditions too bad to drive. Am I on thin ice if I refuse to drive in dangerous conditions?

— Slipping and Sliding

Dear Slip and Slide,

We’ve already had some major snow in much of the country and many drivers are already asking that question.

I don’t need to tell you that sometimes your boss’s definition of safe driving conditions may be different than yours. We all know that the driver is the best judge of how safe the roads are.

Luckily, there’s a law that protects drivers in unsafe weather: the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA). The STAA makes it illegal for your boss to discipline or fire you for refusing to drive a commercial vehicle in dangerous weather—including snow, sleet, and freezing rain. It provides for reinstatement with back pay and legal fees for a driver who is wrongly suspended or fired.

However, this law—like most laws—has limitations, and is subject to interpretations and legal precedents.

From these precedent cases, here are some guidelines about when a driver can refuse to drive due to adverse weather conditions:

  • A driver may refuse to start work if the weather is sufficiently hazardous at or near the time he is scheduled to begin as to make it unsafe to operate a commercial vehicle on the highways.
  • A driver cannot speculate unreasonably into the future regarding what the road conditions will be beyond a few hours.
  • A refusal to drive due to adverse road conditions must be reasonable. The refusal should be based on the driver’s personal observations, weather reports from the radio and television, calls to the Department of Transportation or Highway Patrol, if possible, and information received from other drivers if such information is available.
  • Additionally, the driver should be able to articulate for a court the precise facts that led him to believe that it would have been unsafe for him to operate a commercial vehicle on the highways.

Keep in mind this is a complicated subject. Fortunately there are some excellent sources for Teamsters to learn their rights and how to enforce them.

The STAA Handbook is the book for knowing your rights and how to enforce them under the STAA. If you’re a driver and you don’t have a copy, all I can say is: buy it. You can get it from TDU. You’ll thank me for it.

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