As a driver, maintaining a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of you is one of the most important things you can do to avoid an accident. Unfortunately, tailgating is an all too common occurrence on roadways and often leads to rear-end collisions. When a rear-end crash happens due to tailgating, determining who is at fault can be complicated. While the driver in the rear vehicle is typically considered responsible in these types of accidents, there are situations where liability may be shared or even lie primarily with the lead driver. Get help from a car accident lawyer.
What Is Tailgating and How Common Is It in Rear-End Collisions?
As a driver, it's critical to maintain a safe following distance between your vehicle and others on the road. Tailgating, or following too closely behind another vehicle, is extremely dangerous and illegal. It dramatically increases the risk of a rear-end collision, which often results in injuries and costly vehicle damage.
What Is Tailgating?
Tailgating refers to following behind another vehicle at an unsafe distance. As a general rule of thumb, for every 10 miles per hour of speed, you should keep at least 1 car length of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. At higher speeds, increase your following distance even more. Keep in mind that the faster you're traveling, the less time you have to react in an emergency.
Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of accidents, and tailgating is a frequent contributing factor. When a vehicle abruptly brakes or stops in front of a tailgater, they usually do not have enough time or distance to slow down or change lanes to avoid hitting them from behind.
As the driver of the following vehicle, you can be found predominantly or entirely at fault for a tailgating rear-end collision. The other driver's actions leading up to the accident are typically considered irrelevant. The key determining factor is whether or not you were following at a reasonably safe distance to avoid a collision.
In summary, always leave ample distance between you and other vehicles. Be especially cautious in heavy traffic, on slick roads, or in poor visibility conditions. Maintaining a safe following distance is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of a rear-end collision and avoid legal liability.
Legal Definition of Negligence in Rear-End Crashes
To determine liability in a rear-end collision, the key factor is establishing negligence. Legally, the driver who failed to exercise reasonable care and caution can be considered negligent. In rear-end crashes, the driver of the following vehicle is typically considered negligent since they failed to maintain a safe distance from the lead vehicle. However, there are exceptions.
The Lead Vehicle Driver's Responsibility
The driver of the lead vehicle also has a duty to exercise reasonable care. If their negligent behavior contributed to the accident in a substantial way, they may share some liability. For example, if the lead driver made an abrupt, unsignaled stop or slowed suddenly without cause, and there was no reasonable way for the following driver to avoid hitting them, the lead driver's negligence also contributed. In these cases, comparative negligence laws in the state where the accident occurred will determine how liability is apportioned between the parties.
To prove the lead vehicle driver was also negligent, the following driver must show:
- The lead vehicle driver's actions were dangerous and unlawful
- Those actions were a substantial contributing factor in the crash
- A reasonable and prudent driver in the same circumstances would not have acted in the same manner
In summary, while the driver who rear-ends another vehicle is typically considered primarily negligent, the lead vehicle driver can also be found partially liable if their negligent behavior was a substantial contributing factor. The specific percentages of liability will depend on the laws of the state where the accident took place.
Proving the Tailgater's Liability in Court
To prove the tailgater’s liability in court, several factors must be established. The key elements center around demonstrating that the tailgater was following too closely behind your vehicle, failed to maintain a safe speed and distance, and did not take proper evasive action to avoid hitting your vehicle.
Distance Between Vehicles
The tailgater must maintain a reasonable and prudent distance between vehicles based on speed, traffic, and road conditions. If they were following too closely, it indicates they were driving in an unsafe manner. Measurements of skid marks, the distance your vehicle traveled after braking, and the force of the impact can all be used to show the tailgater was an unsafe distance behind you.
The tailgater has a duty to drive at a speed that allows them to stop safely for any obstacles or braking vehicles in front of them. If they were going too fast to brake and avoid hitting you after you applied your brakes, it proves they were driving recklessly. Data from the accident scene, skid marks, and vehicle damage can indicate the tailgater's excessive speed.
The tailgater must take proper evasive action to avoid a collision, such as braking, swerving or changing lanes. If there is no evidence the tailgater braked or tried to avoid hitting your vehicle before impact, it shows they were not paying adequate attention or driving carefully. The lack of skid marks from the tailgater’s vehicle can demonstrate their failure to take evasive action.
The evidence from the accident scene, measurements, eyewitness accounts, and expert testimony can all be used to prove the tailgater did not exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Their negligence and liability in causing the rear-end collision should be clear based on these factors. Proving the tailgater’s irresponsibility and fault will be crucial to recovering damages for your injuries and vehicle repairs.
Gathering Evidence to Support Your Tailgating Claim
Gathering evidence to support your tailgating claim involves several important steps.
Photographs of the Accident Scene
Take pictures of both vehicles involved in the collision, their final resting positions, and the surrounding area. Photographs of skid marks, debris, and points of impact can help establish how the accident occurred and who is liable.
Obtain a copy of the official police report which documents the responding officer’s determination of fault. The police report will typically cite the driver who caused the collision by following too closely. This finding can strengthen your claim that the tailgating driver is responsible.
Seek out witnesses to the tailgating accident and get their accounts of what transpired in written statements. Eyewitness testimony from independent third parties carries significant weight and can help verify your version of events. Ask witnesses for their name, contact information, and a written statement describing what they saw leading up to and during the collision.
If you suffered any injuries as a result of the tailgating accident, gather documentation from physicians, emergency services, physical therapists or other medical professionals who treated you. Medical records substantiating your injuries and any lasting impact they have had on your health, mobility and ability to work will be important for establishing damages.
Presenting evidence like photographs, police reports, witness statements, and medical records will build a strong case that the tailgating driver’s negligence caused the rear-end collision and your subsequent injuries. Compiling this evidence as soon as possible after the accident will best position you to pursue legal action against the at-fault driver.
Consult a Texas Car Accident Lawyer for Your Rear-End Collision Case
Consulting an experienced Texas car accident lawyer is advisable if you have been involved in a rear-end collision. They can determine who is at fault and help you pursue compensation for damages.
Liability in Rear-End Collisions
In rear-end collisions in Texas, the driver who strikes the vehicle in front of them is typically considered at fault. There are exceptions, such as if the lead driver negligently stopped suddenly or improperly, without cause. However, the following driver must still maintain a safe distance and speed to avoid a collision.
Your attorney will examine details like the police report, photos of the vehicles, witness statements, traffic camera footage if available, and the exact location of impact to determine liability. If the lead driver contributed to the accident in some way, your lawyer may be able to establish shared fault. In some cases, a vehicle malfunction could also be a contributing factor.
Compensation for Your Losses
If the other driver is found primarily at fault, you may be entitled to compensation for injuries, lost wages, medical bills, vehicle damage, and other expenses through an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. An experienced lawyer knows how to properly value a claim and will negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf to maximize your settlement. If a fair resolution cannot be reached, they can represent you in court.
Consulting a qualified Texas car accident attorney is the best way to understand your legal options after a rear-end collision. They can handle communications with insurance companies and opposing parties, investigate the details of your accident, and fight for full compensation under the law. Don't delay—contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident for a free case review.
Tailgating Car Accident FAQ
In a tailgating rear-end collision, the driver of the trailing vehicle is typically considered principally at fault. As the following vehicle, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe distance between yourself and the lead vehicle so you can stop if needed. If you collide with the vehicle in front of you, it indicates you were following too closely to stop in time. However, there are some exceptions to consider:
- Was the lead driver behaving erratically or unpredictably? If the lead vehicle made an sudden, unsignaled maneuver like slamming on their brakes, changing lanes abruptly, or turning without warning, it may mitigate some of the liability for the trailing driver.
- Were driving conditions hazardous? Poor visibility, slippery roads, heavy traffic, and other dangerous conditions can also reduce the trailing driver's fault. It may have been difficult to maintain a safe following distance and react in time under such circumstances.
- Did vehicle malfunctions contribute? Issues like brake failure, accelerator sticking, or other mechanical problems with the trailing vehicle could lessen the driver's liability, especially if properly maintained. Evidence from a mechanic may need to be provided.
- Was the lead vehicle illegally stopped or parked? If the lead vehicle was stopped in the roadway without hazard lights on or other warning, the trailing driver may not be fully at fault. However, you still must be traveling at a speed that allows you to safely stop or avoid any obstacles.
While the trailing driver is typically considered primarily liable in rear-end collisions due to tailgating, there are defenses and mitigating factors to consider regarding fault and liability. An experienced car accident attorney can review the details of your specific accident and determine how much fault may lay with the other driver. They can also handle communicating with insurance companies and negotiating fair compensation on your behalf.
In summary, tailgating and reckless driving are extremely dangerous behaviors that often lead to rear-end collisions. As the driver behind, you have a duty to maintain a safe distance between vehicles and to pay attention to the flow of traffic. If you fail to do so and strike the vehicle in front of you, the law generally considers you to be at fault. The driver in front typically cannot be blamed unless they made an abrupt, unsignaled stop for no reason. Both drivers should always follow proper driving etiquette and exercise caution to avoid these preventable accidents. Call Fletcher Law for help. By giving other vehicles plenty of space and your full attention, you can do your part to promote roadway safety for all.