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What Does Driving With 'Due Care' Mean?

Last updated 10/17/2019

If a person operates a motor vehicle on a regular basis, they will likely have to do so in many different conditions. Weather, traffic, and road conditions can all vary greatly and these factors often require drivers to alter or modify their driving behavior in order to keep themselves and the people around them safe.

Most state driving laws include language that addresses the realities of variable driving conditions and the responsibility drivers have to operate their vehicles accordingly. Legal expectations for drivers vary from state to state and the differences can significantly impact drivers.

What Is Due Care?

Because driving conditions can change quickly and drastically, drivers have a legal responsibility to consider what hazards are or might be present. In legal terms, this consideration is known as due care.

Each state has its own laws defining what it considers to be due care, and some states' definitions are broader than others. For example, Minnesota law essentially says that drivers must regulate their speed enough to prevent car accidents, whereas the Tennessee state code specifies acceptable behavior in much greater detail, e.g., how drivers must behave around "any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway."

Reference for Drivers

At their core, due care laws are concerned with preventing accidents and mitigating hazards. As such, there are some general lessons all drivers can take away from the various state regulations:

  • Drive defensively
  • Consider hazards before they arise
  • Adjust driving to the weather and road conditions

Failure to Use Due Care Tickets

The language around due care laws is often general enough that law enforcement officers have significant freedoms when it comes to ticketing drivers for violations. An officer may believe an individual's driving presents a hazard to others because of the conditions, even if that behavior itself is not explicitly illegal in that state, e.g., talking on a phone while driving, or driving at certain speeds.

If a driver suspects that a due care ticket they were given is unjustified, they may have the ability to appeal the ticket and clear their record of the charges. If they choose to object to a ticket, it is recommended they seek the advice of a traffic attorney in their area.

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