Just rear-ended someone...You just rear-ended someone who slammed on their brakes.

Now… who is at fault?

It’s an all too common scenario.

You’re driving along in normal traffic, when suddenly (and without warning), the car in front of you slams on its brakes.

You don’t have time to react, and your car hits the front car. You’ve just been in a rear-end collision.

You’re not alone. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says a full 28% of all crashes are rear-end collisions, and almost half of all two-vehicle accidents are rear-end collisions.

These crashes tragically kill 1,700 people per year, including several in Oklahoma.

US-NTSB-SealA rear-end collision is defined as a crash consisting of one vehicle hitting another vehicle directly in front of it, while both cars are facing the same direction.

So who is at fault and whose is liable from an auto insurance and personal liability perspective?

Today, we’re going to shed a little light on this crash scenario.

In general, the person that hit the car from behind is at fault.

But it’s not always the case.

Why do law enforcement and insurance companies hold the driver of the rear car liable in rear-end collisions?

It has to do with your reasonable DUTY OF CARE. While going about our business – like driving on a roadway – each of us is expected to practice a standard of reasonable care in our conduct. We have a “duty of care” to conduct ourselves as a “reasonable person” while traveling roadways.

That means we need to do things like:

  • Maintain control of our vehicle
  • Drive at a reasonable speed
  • Follow at a safe distance
  • Yield the right of way
  • Use functioning turn signals and brake lights
  • Pay attention to the roadway in front of us
  • Be prepared for sudden changes in traffic
  • Use reasonable caution to protect people and property around us

When we don’t practice a reasonable standard of care, the law generally finds us “negligent” in conduct.

…And negligence leads to liability.

A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study showed that 87% of rear-end collisions involved the back driver failing to attend to the traffic ahead.

The fact is…

Most rear-end collisions are caused by distracted driving on the part of the tailing driver. The rear driver may be: texting on their phone, driving too close, speeding, or just not paying attention.

Keep a safe driving distance

The “Assured Clear Distance Ahead” Rule

Another rule that generally applies in cases where the tailing car is held liable is the Assured Clear Distance Ahead (ACDA) rule. The application of this rule varies from state to state.

Wikipedia defines the ACDA rule as – “the distance which can be seen to be clear of hazards by the driver, within which they should be able to bring the device to a halt (to stop the car); drivers generally may not pose an “immediate hazard” upon where or when they cannot assure such distance ahead is clear.”

Some states, including Oklahoma, have passed specific statutes in relation to the ACDA. These statutes may place even more burden of liability on the tailing driver in rear-end collisions.

Oklahoma Statutes 47-11-801 states – “Any person driving a vehicle on a highway shall drive the same at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway and any other conditions then existing, and no person shall drive any vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than will permit the driver to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.”

This all means that you need to use your head and adjust your driving to the road conditions, always able to bring your car to a complete stop without hitting the vehicle in front of you.

Unfortunately, even if you have rear-ended a person who suddenly slammed on their brakes, you are generally expected to use reasonable care to maintain a safe distance behind the car in front of you.

When The Front Driver May Be Liable

There are times, however, when the front driver may be negligent and therefore liable from a legal and insurance perspective.

It could be that the front driver:

  • Reversed suddenly at a stoplight or intersection
  • Failed to use functioning brake lights
  • Stopped suddenly to turn, but then failed to turn
  • Stopped in the roadway for a flat tire but did not pull over or use hazard lights
  • Pulled into traffic from a side street, while not leaving room for rear cars to react

In these situations, it is possible that the front driver may be liable. But keep in mind, some of these may be hard to prove, so it is still in your best interest to drive at a very safe distance and focus your attention on the road at all times.

What if I’ve Fallen Victim to a Fraudulent Auto Accident

It is important to protect yourself and others while driving. Most rear-end crashes are the result of one or both drivers practicing negligent driving behaviors.

However, it is important to be aware of a “dirty trick” staged accident used by some insurance fraudsters.

It’s called the “swoop & squat.”

This scheme generally involves two (or three) cars who are following a victim. One criminal’s car suddenly passes “swoops” around the victim’s car, while the second criminal’s car pulls up alongside the victim. At this point the first criminal slams on their brakes to cause a rear-end crash. The victim cannot swerve to avoid the collision because they are boxed in.

The criminals generally file a large insurance claim including damage and personal injury.

If you feel like you’ve fallen victim to this scam, notify police, talk to your insurance agent, and report it to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The Importance of Auto Insurance

As we’ve discovered, the risk of getting into a rear-end collision is very high, whether you are traveling in front or traveling behind another car.

It’s vitally important that you maintain an adequate level of auto insurance to protect you and your loved ones from liability when this happens.

Having a trusted auto insurance adviser on your side can help. Contact Darin Hall to review your Tulsa auto insurance coverage. As an Allstate agent in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Darin can offer excellent auto discounts while advising you on coverage that best protects you against liability.


Darin Hall - Your Allstate AgentDARIN HALL
Tulsa Allstate Agent
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