Liability for Rear-end Collissions in California

In driver’s education, nearly every California driver learns that in a rear-end collision the following driver is liable since it’s their obligation to keep sufficient distance from the car in front so they can stop before impact.  While this rule is generally true, there are exceptions.

Why The Following Driver Is Usually Liable

The California Vehicle Code requires drivers to not follow another vehicle unreasonably close, to maintain a lookout for objects ahead, and not drive at excessive speeds.

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.

To make matters worse for the following driver, California Evidence Code 669(a) creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence for violation of a statute. Accordingly, in a rear-end collision the driver in front can say that the following driver violated Vehicle Code 21703 since they followed a vehicle more closely than was reasonable and prudent.

But Sometimes the Front Driver is Negligent

While the following driver is usually found negligent in a rear-end collision, sometimes the driver in front can be found negligent.  For example, perhaps the driver in front with broken brake lights came to a sudden stop on a freeway onramp, a location where drivers usually accelerate.

No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle on a highway without first giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter to the driver of any vehicle immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give the signal.

CA Vehicle Code 22109

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