The laws in every State regulate the use of the public roads, whether by the operators of motor vehicles, pedestrians, or even operators of conveyances drawn by animals. These rules are usually codified in the statutory law of the State and are generally known as “the rules of the road.” In Alabama these rules are found in Sec. 32-5A-1, et seq. These are basic rules of driving. While the entire statutory scheme is a good bit more detailed than the handbook that we were given when we started to learn to drive, the idea is the same – there are certain things about using the public roads that we are all supposed to know. Ignorance of these rules can lead to unfortunate consequences.
Most of these rules are just common sense – for example, don’t exceed the posted speed limit, observe stop signs and other traffic control devices; and it would be impossible in the space of a few paragraphs to detail all of these rules. But a brief overview may be both instructive and entertaining.
The rules of the road are fairly exhaustive. They include rules relating to traffic signs, passing and parking, right of way issues, turning, starting and stopping, alcohol related issues and many other matters. While most of the rules are very well known to most drivers, perhaps some of them deserve special mention. For example, the law gives to construction workers the right of way when they are operating a vehicle which is obviously engaged in work upon a highway. In our experience, work zones on roadways present one of the most dangerous environments for the public and for the road workers. Another set of very important rules (which are frequently ignored) have to do with the speed at which vehicles are operated. “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed in excess of the maximum limits.” We all know that. But did you know that in addition to rules related to posted speed limits, the law prohibits driving more than 30 MPH in any urban district, driving more than 35 MPH on a dirt road or (and this is important) driving at a speed that is greater than is safe under the conditions and without regard to actual or potential hazards. Intersection crossings, railroad crossings, hill crests, curves, areas where pedestrians are common, road construction areas and wet weather conditions – all of these may require speeds at lower than the posted speed. There is also a rule related to the minimum speed required which is simply that no one shall operate a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal movement of traffic.
Some other miscellaneous provisions may be of interest. A driver must use reasonable care not to harm others on public roadways. This is a catch-all provisions that states the obvious: motor vehicles and be dangerous – be careful. If weather conditions (sunlight, fog, rain, etc.) keep you from seeing what is on the road, you must operate your vehicle in a manner that is reasonable for these conditions. In other words, slow down in bad weather! Under the law, wearing a seatbelt is not contributory negligence. That being said, always wear your seatbelt. It can save your life. Don’t be stupid just because the law doesn’t require seatbelt use. A driver must keep a lookout for others and also to keep a lookout for their own safety. A driver must anticipate the presence of others. A driver is negligent if he fails to see what is there to be seen. When a child is near the road, the driver must not assume that the child will not suddenly run into the roadway. The driver must watch the child’s movements. Let children be children. Let’s all take reasonable care to protect them. A motor vehicle must be in a reasonably safe condition before it is driven on the road. The first responsibility for the safety of the vehicle is that of the driver or owner. However, the driver or owner is not responsible for vehicle defects that were not known to him.
The driving under the influence rules are also contained in the rules of the road section of the Alabama Code. While a discussion of the DUI rules is really beyond the scope of this article, it is very important to note that operating motor vehicles while under the influence of alcohol, or while distracted, or while drowsy, constitute an enormous and growing risk to public safety and even to human life. Courts have become more and more intolerant of these kind of reckless behaviors, and rightly so.
In civil cases involving motor vehicle accidents the judge will charge the jury concerning the rules of the road. These are the rules that a jury will consider in determining the responsibility of a driver for the injuries to another driver or pedestrian. These rules have been developed over a period of many years and their observance is important to insure the life and safety of the citizens who use the public roads. Riding or driving in a motor vehicle is routinely the most dangerous thing that most of us do. Here at Jinks, Crow and Dickson we remain committed to diligently representing persons who are seriously injured or killed because of the negligence of others in the operation of vehicles on the road. Please do not become a victim or a perpetrator in a tragic motor vehicle accident. Observe the rules of the road. Your life and the lives of others may depend on it.