In a rear-end crash, the law is typically on the side of the driver in front.  However, there are other particulars that can put the front driver at fault if they did something dangerous, like brake check the driver behind them and force them into a crash.  Understanding these laws is essential if you’ve been injured in a rear-end collision in NJ.

First, it is illegal to tailgate in NJ, and this can result in a ticket.  Because of this law, it can typically be considered negligent – and thus grounds for an injury lawsuit – if someone hit you while violating that tailgating law.  Although this is the typical rule, it does not hold in 100% of cases.  The facts in any specific case might be different, resulting in a different outcome, especially if the driver in front was doing something dangerous or the rear driver lost control of their vehicle.

For a free case evaluation, call the NJ car accident lawyers at Legal Care New Jersey at (732) 838-9769.

What Does the Law Say About Rear-End Accidents in NJ?

There is no specific law governing how rear-end crashes are decided.  This means there is nothing that specifically says “the rear driver is at fault” or anything like that, but looking at NJ’s tailgating laws can help us understand the legal framework through which a rear-end crash will be analyzed.

In any car accident case, one of the first things our Jersey City, NJ car accident lawyers will look for is a traffic law that was violated.  If there is a traffic law in place that is written to keep people safe on the road – as most traffic laws are – then we can use a violation of that law to prove “negligence per se” in a car accident injury case.  N.J.S.A. § 39-4-89 – NJ’s tailgating law – provides exactly this kind of traffic law on point.

Under this law, no one can follow someone else “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.”  This “reasonable and prudent” standard is essentially analyzed from the perspective of what a reasonably careful driver would do, so we can chalk it up to general safe-driving standards.  Various safety experts and organizations give different rules for how close is too close, but the rules usually tell you to leave a couple of car lengths between cars or to pace yourself at least 3 seconds behind the car in front.

NJ’s tailgating law also says that the speed of traffic and road conditions must be taken into account.  At higher speeds, it is harder to stop, so drivers should leave more room.  Similarly, in ice or snow, drivers need to leave more room so they can stop without slipping or skidding out.

Standards like this “reasonable and prudent” one usually take all factors into account, but if a violation of this rule is found, then the driver to the rear will be squarely at fault.

Can the Driver in Front Be at Fault for a Rear-End Collision in NJ?

If the rear driver was truly tailgating, then they will usually be the one at fault for a rear-end crash, but this is not a hard and fast rule.  There are many exceptions and situations where the driver to the rear might have an excuse or might have crashed even though they were not actually too close.  There are also things that the front driver might do to make themselves at fault.

Front Driver Backing Up

If the rear driver was hit by a driver who was backing up, the accident would be the front driver’s fault.  This is quite common in parking lot accidents, where a driver leaves a space and backs into another driver who might not even be moving.  If this happens on the road – where there is usually no lawful reason to be driving in reverse – the crash is likely going to be the front driver’s fault.

Brake Check Crashes

If the driver in front intentionally slams on their brakes, either to bother the driver behind them or to actually try to bait them into a crash, the accident could be their fault instead.  This is patently dangerous and has no lawful purpose, making it potentially meet the standard of “recklessness.”  Recklessness trumps negligence in a car accident case, so even if the rear driver was following too closely, the front driver’s reckless actions would likely put them at fault instead.  Especially if the rear driver was not following too closely, slamming on the brakes without a real emergency is dangerous and can make the front driver at fault.

Vehicle Malfunctions and Brake Failure

If a crash happens because the driver to the rear could not stop in time due to mechanical issues, the accident might not be their fault.  If they reasonably inspected and cared for their vehicle but did not know about the mechanical issue or it was caused by a defective auto part, then both drivers might be victims of the auto manufacturer’s mistakes.  However, if the car’s brakes failed because they had not been inspected or because the vehicle owner failed to replace brakes that they knew were worn down or dangerous, then the crash could be the vehicle owner’s fault.  In cases involving commercial trucks, brake failure could be the trucking company’s fault, especially if they ignored proper maintenance and inspection schedules or put a truck they knew to be dangerous out on the road.

Black Ice and Other Hidden Dangers

As mentioned, the driver to the rear needs to take bad weather into account when judging their following distance.  However, some bad road conditions are difficult to spot.  If a driver slides into you after hitting a patch of black ice or some other hidden danger, they might have done everything they could to stop or swerve out of the way.  In some of these cases, the accident might be deemed unavoidable, and their actions might not have actually made a difference either way.  These cases are difficult to defend though, so our lawyers might still be able to blame the crash on the driver’s failure to slow down and give a larger following distance in inclement weather.

Call Our Car Accident Lawyers in NJ Today

For a free evaluation of your case, call our Newark car accident lawyers at Legal Care New Jersey today at (732) 838-9769.