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California’s Rear-End Collision Laws

This article explains the California laws that govern rear-end collisions, and discusses fault in these types of accidents.

One of the most common situations that occurs in the area of auto accident law is the rear-end collision. This is especially true in busy cities such as Los Angeles, where there is a lot of slow-moving, stop-and-go traffic. The question is, in the event you are rear-ended by another driver, is it always the other driver’s fault?

In order to answer this question, let’s first take a look at the California laws that govern such collisions. It is important to understand that the law does not “codify” (set forth in writing) fault. Rather, fault is determined by the circumstances surrounding a collision, and typically put into a Traffic Incident Report by the responding police officers. Who the officer will determine is at fault, however, is largely based on violation of the following two laws:

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 22350: “Basic Speed Law”

“No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.”

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21703: “Following Too Closely”

“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 such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.”

Basically, these two laws state that a driver is responsible for knowing what is going on around them, and are required to operate their vehicles according to the conditions that they perceive. When a driver rear-ends another vehicle in violation of one of these two laws, they will almost always be at fault.

“Comparative Negligence” In Rear-End Collisions

There are, however, exceptions to these rules. In California, there is a doctrine called “Comparative Negligence”, which allows a jury to determine on a case-by-case basis whether both parties were at fault, and what percentage each was at fault. If a jury determines that as the party that was rear-ended, you were partially at fault, it may reduce your compensation for the accident.

Typically, a jury will determine that a driver who was rear-ended (the “Plaintiff”) is partially at fault in the following situations:

  • The Plaintiff’s taillights or brake lights were not functioning at the time of the collision. (This is especially true if the accident occurred at night.)
  • The Plaintiff’s vehicle had broken-down and the Plaintiff failed to do everything they reasonably could’ve done to safely drive the vehicle off of the road.
  • The Plaintiff made an unsafe lane change in front of the other vehicle and was rear-ended as a result.
  • The Plaintiff  makes a suddenly stop to  avoid striking the vehicle in front or to make a turn but does not execute the turn.

These are some of the reasons that a driver who is rear-ended may be held partially at fault under California’s Comparative Negligence laws. This is not an exhaustive list. If you or someone you know is injured as the result of being rear-ended by another driver, it is important to have an attorney who is experienced in California’s rear-end and comparative negligence laws to help you receive the compensation you deserve. For over 30 years The Law Offices of Vann H. Slatter have helped those injured in rear-end collisions and all types of auto accidents. Call today for your free consultation at (310) 444-3010 or toll-free at    (888) 293-0404.