Who is at Fault in a Rear-End Collision?

Pennsylvania and New Jersey both use a choice no-fault system, which means drivers do not have to prove fault following a car accident in order to be compensated through their own insurance company. However, depending on the the severity of the driver’s injuries, the sort of insurance coverage the driver has, and the circumstances under which the accident occurs, the accident victim may wish to seek compensation by filing a lawsuit against the other driver. In this article, car accident lawyer Brent Wieand will explain how fault (and compensation) is determined in a rear-end collision, discussing some of New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s relevant traffic laws along the way.

Car Accident Liability: Rear-End Collision Laws in PA and NJ

If you’ve ever been involved in a rear-end collision, or an accident where one vehicle’s front end strikes another vehicle’s rear bumper, you aren’t alone. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions rank among the most common car accidents in the United States, accounting for about 28% of all crashes. (By comparison, about 23% involve running off the road or losing control of the vehicle, while just 9% involve improper lane changes.) On a more local level, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) estimated that just over one fifth of all Pennsylvania accidents in 2014 involved rear-end collisions, causing about 80 fatalities, while the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) reported 38 rear-end collision fatalities in 2013.

car accident on highway

As these sobering statistics make plain, rear-end collisions are a frequent occurrence on America’s roads. Sadly, they are also a preventable occurrence, which is why New Jersey and Pennsylvania have enacted traffic safety laws establishing drivers’ responsibilities when traveling behind other vehicles. While these laws generally make the striking vehicle liable when a rear-end collision occurs, there are also some exceptions in which the driver of the front vehicle potentially assumes fault.

Pennsylvania’s traffic code dedicates an entire statute, 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3310, to the prohibition of tailgating. The statute states the following:

“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 the vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”

While the statute does not list a specific distance which is considered to be “reasonable and prudent,” the PennDOT Driver’s Manual makes the following safety recommendations for an appropriate following distance:

-Allow at least four seconds of following distance when driving behind a motorcycle.
-Double your normal following distance when driving through a work zone.
-When traveling on a dry road at highway speeds, allow at least four seconds of following distance between yourself and the car ahead of you.
-Even if you need to make a sudden emergency stop, you should look ahead and maintain a safe following distance.

Following too closely is also prohibited in New Jersey. In fact, N.J.S.A. § 39:4-89 uses identical language to that of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3310 in Pennsylvania.

Is the Striking Driver Always at Fault?

If a driver violates traffic statutes by following too closely, then he or she is likely to be found at fault for the resulting rear-end collision. However, depending on the exact circumstances of the accident, there are also some potential exceptions. Since fault varies on a case-by-case basis, you should consider consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer in order to get a clearer picture of the possible outcomes of your legal matter. Listed below are some examples of scenarios in which the striking driver is not necessarily at fault:

-A “chain-reaction” accident involving three or more vehicles, in which the cars in the middle of the chain are helplessly pushed forward by the force of the vehicles behind them. (The driver who started the chain, however, would likely be at fault.)

-A collision which occurs because a driver fails to take reasonable precautions when pulling out of a driveway or parking lot (e.g. driving too fast, not checking rearview and/or sideview mirrors.)

-A collision which occurs because of factors beyond the striking driver’s control. For instance, there might be debris on the surface of the road, or the striking vehicle might have a braking defect of which the driver was not aware until that moment. (If you were injured by a defective product, you should seek assistance from an attorney immediately.)

car accident injury

If you were in a rear-end collision in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, or elsewhere in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you may be able to recover compensation to help with your medical bills, lost income, vehicle repairs, property damage, and other expenses. To set up a free, confidential, no-obligation legal consultation, call attorney Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161. You will not be charged any fees unless Brent makes a recovery for you.

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice. Brent’s law office is located in Philadelphia, PA, and serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.***

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