Washington statutes require that a driver of a motor vehicle “not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon…the highway.” [1] The determination of a safe distance depends on traffic conditions, weather and road conditions, the acts of the drivers, and all other surrounding circumstances.[2]

Weather or road conditions do not normally excuse the following driver in a rear-end accident unless the conditions were not known or foreseeable to the following driver.[3] Likewise, equipment failure is not an excuse for a rear-end accident unless the equipment failure was unknown and not reasonably discoverable.[4]

Where two cars are traveling in the same direction the primary duty of avoiding a rear-end collision rests with the following driver.  The following driver is negligent if she runs into the car ahead, and the driver that is rear-ended need not prove affirmative acts of negligence.[5]

The leading driver is entitled to assume following drivers are obeying the law and are following at a safe distance.[6]

A leading driver who is rear-ended is entitled to have the jury instructed on the following driver’s primary responsibility.[7] It is reversible error for a trial court to fail to instruct a jury that the following driver is to operate her vehicle at such a speed and distance that by “the exercise of reasonable care [an] emergency stop as may be dictated by ordinary traffic conditions may be safely made.”[8]

Thus, Washington drivers may—without fear of sharing in liability if rear-ended —freely obey traffic signals, including stopping for “amber” traffic lights, and need not give advance notice of movement within their lane unless they intend to change lanes.[9]

A driver’s right to stop at a changing traffic light is absolute.[10] However, the lead driver may be partially or wholly at fault for deceptive driving—such as slowing, accelerating, then suddenly stopping; or failing to use a turn signal, even though approaching an intersection.[11]

A lead driver may be partly at fault when rear-ended if the driver engages in misleading or illegal behavior, such as stopping illegally; cutting off another driver; slowing down, then accelerating, then abruptly stopping; or stopping on an interstate off-ramp when the driver has the right-of-way.[12]

If you have been injured in a rear-end auto accident you should consult with a personal injury attorney for a free case evaluation.

 

[1] RCW 46.61.145(1).

[2] Johnson v. Watson, 11 Wn.2d 690, 120 P.2d 515 (1941); Szupkay v. Cozzetti, 37 Wn. App. 30,678 P.2d 358 (1984); WPI 70.05.

[3] Compare Pearson v. Olympic Hot Tub Co., No. 22882-3-II, 1999 LEXIS 421 ( (Wash. Ct. App. March 5, 1999)(unpublished) with Szupkay v. Cozzetti, 37 Wn. App. 30,678 P.2d 358 (1984) and

Vanderhoffv. Fitzgerald, 72 Wn.2d 103,431 P.2d 969 (1967).

[4] Biehl v. Poinier, 71 Wn.2d 492,429 P.2d 228 (1967).

[5] Tackett v. Millburn, 36 Wn.2d 349, 218 P.2d 298 (1950); Vanwagenen v. Roy, 21 Wn.App. 581, 587 P.2d 173 (1978). See also, Ritter v. Johnson, 163 Wash. 153, 300 P. 518, 79 A.L.R. 1270 (1931)(While the following driver is not required to be a mind reader, in heavy traffic the following driver is required to maintain careful and continual observation sufficient to avoid collisions with vehicles in front.); Supanchick v. Pfaff, 51 Wn. App. 861, 865, 756 P.2d 146 (1988)(Following driver admitted he was aware vehicles travelling where accident occurred turned left, so he could not say the sudden stop and turn was unanticipated.); Cronin v. Shell Oil Co., 8 Wn.2d 404, 112 P.2d 824 (1941); Miller v. Cody, 41 Wn.2d 775, 778, 252 P.2d 303 (1953); Vanderhoff v. Fitzgerald, 72 Wn.2d 103, 105-06, 431 P.2d 969 (1967).

[6] Izett v. Walker, 67 Wn.2d 903, 410 P.2d 802 (1966); Jazbec v. Dobbs, 55 Wn.2d 373,347 P.2d 1054 (1960); Brummett v. Cyr, 56 Wn.2d 904, 355 P.2d 994 (1960). (Leading driver may stop suddenly at an amber light. An instruction on contributory negligence was error.); Ryan v. Westgard, 12 Wn. App. 500, 505, 530 P.2d 687 (1975).

[7] Biehl v. Poinier, 71 Wn.2d 492,429 P.2d 228 (1967). WPI 70.06.

[8] Billington v. Schaal, 42 Wn.2d 878, at 880(1953); Ryan v. Westgard, 12 Wn. App. 500, 505, 530 P.2d 687 (1975). (Citation omitted.).

[9] Jazbec v. Dobbs, 55 Wn.2d 373,347 P.2d 1054 (1960); Brummett v. Cyr, 56 Wn.2d 904, 355 P.2d 994 (1960).

[10]  Brummett v. Cyr, 56 Wn.2d 904, 906, 355 P.2d 994 (1960).

[11] Rhoades v. DeRosier, 14 Wn. App. 946, 546 P.2d 930 (1976); Billington v. Schaal, 42Wn.2d878, 259P.2d 634(1953).

[12] Grapp v. Peterson, 25 Wn.2d 44,48, 168 P.2d 400 (1946)(Cutting off another driver);Rhoades v. DeRosier, 14 Wn. App. 946,546 P.2d 930 (1976); Danley v. Cooper, 62 Wn.2d 179, 181-82, 381 P.2d 747 (1963); Palmer v. Jensen, 81 Wn. App. 148, 913 P.2d 413, remanded, 132 Wn.2d 193 (1997)(Stop on interstate off-ramp when leading driver had right-of-way), but see Bonica v. Gracias, 9 Wn. App. 817,515 P.2d 169 (1973), affd in part and rev’d in part, 84 Wn.2d 99,524 P.2d ( 232 (1974)(Sudden stop on off-ramp may be reasonable.); Felder v. City of Tacoma, 68 Wn.2d 726, 415 P.2d 496 (1966)(abrupt stop at flashing amber light); James v. Niebuhr, 63 Wn.2d 800,389 P.2d 287 (1964)(sudden, unnecessary stop on arterial); Nelson v. Brownfield, 21 Wn.2d 898, 153 P.2d 877 (1944); Vanwagenen v. Roy, 21 Wn. App. 581, 587 P.2d 173 (1978)(Left turn from right lane); Enslow v. Helmcke, 26 Wn. App. 101,611 P.2d 1338 (1980)(Right turn from center lane); Graham v. Roderick, 32 Wn.2d 427,202 P.2d 253 (1949)(U-turn); Gooldy v. Golden Grain Trucking Co., 69 Wn.2d 610, 419 P.2d 582 (1966); Gerrard v. Craig, 67 Wn. App. 394,836 P.2d 837 (1992), rev’d on other grounds, 122 Wn.2d 288 (1993)..