Legal Hypothetical - Rear Ended w/o Brake Lights

Messages
779
Location
Indiana, USA
Yesterday on the way home from work I narrowly missed crashing into the vehicle in front of me. I was keeping a reasonable amount of following distance but that evaporated quickly because the other vehicle's side brake lights were not functioning. Since it was a mini-van the third brake light didn't register with me until I was already very close. I've run up on fools that have no brake lights before but this was the first true close call. So here's my question: supposing I had rear-ended the other vehicle would I have a leg to stand on since his vehicle wasn't in proper operating condition? Would "no brake lights" be any kind of defense either between insurance companies or in court?
 
Messages
2,500
Location
Dallas, Texas
Yes, I think you would be good. At least in Texas you can get pulled over and ticketed for not having such a safety device properly installed. Kind of like not wearing your seatbelt, or not having a baby seat for your infant. I have had that EXACT thing happen to me 2x in the past 2 weeks. Different cars, but still scary as heck.
 
Messages
14,013
Location
Retired | Wausau, WI
That person might get a ticket for a faulty brake light, but you would still be at fault for hitting them. Does not seem right, but that is how the system works.
 
Messages
10,597
Location
Nokesville, VA
They can tell, by the way, if the brake lights were functioning at the time of impact, even if the bulb is smashed. Ever smash a lighbulb that's on? The filament burns away leaving a white residue over the glass. That won't happen if the bulb was not on at the time it got smashed.
 
Messages
567
Location
IL
I make it a point not to hang behind those neglect their car types. Who knows what else is not up to par, like brakes and tires...
 
Messages
17
Location
Virginia
I often slow my car with the gearbox and avoid using the brakes. It's incumbent on the trailing car to maintain a safe distance from the cars being followed.
 

calvin1

Thread starter
Messages
779
Location
Indiana, USA
 Originally Posted By: MG_Guy
I often slow my car with the gearbox and avoid using the brakes. It's incumbent on the trailing car to maintain a safe distance from the cars being followed.
I see that sometimes, especially 18 wheelers using exhaust brakes. However engine braking is a lot slower than a full on panic stop with the friction brakes. One doesn't necessarily get to pick who he is following, especially in traffic, in a construction zone, during rush hour, while approaching my exit as this was. Regarding proving that the brakes were faulty, no need to get all CSI :). If this ever happens I plan on NOT saying anything specific to the doofus with the ghetto-mobile. I'll wait until the cops show up and THEN bring up the issue. The cop can then demonstrate for himself that the front vehicle was not in working order and include it in his report. No need to let the other guy have time to get his story straight.
 
Messages
528
Location
PA by way of Oregon
In most if not all jurisdictions, the trailing vehicle has the responsibility in rear end accidents, presumably on the theory that the driver of this vehicle can more easily observe the other. I don't see a court or insurance company siding with you if you had hit the other driver
 
Messages
6,367
Location
Midwest
 Originally Posted By: Johnny
That person might get a ticket for a faulty brake light, but you would still be at fault for hitting them. Does not seem right, but that is how the system works.
Agreed. I think there would still be some culpability on your part because you hit them. Faulty brake lights/burned out bulbs happen and they're not really an excuse for hitting another vehicle. What if the other driver is using their manual transmission to slow down and not using the brakes until they are right at the light?
 

Kestas

Staff member
Messages
13,820
Location
The Motor City
 Originally Posted By: Pop_Rivit
Faulty brake lights/burned out bulbs happen and they're not really an excuse for hitting another vehicle. What if the other driver is using their manual transmission to slow down and not using the brakes until they are right at the light?
I don't think it's fair to expect the person behind you to safely stop when your brake lights don't work. I've had enough scares myself to realize this fact. In my field of experitse, there are ways to determine whether a bulb was lit or not during a crash. The filament will be damaged differently between the two scenarios. Should you have been involved in such an accident, and claimed that the brake lights were not functioning, this should have triggered a laboratory investigation of the brake lamps (and brake light system, in general).
 
Messages
39,806
Location
Pottstown, PA
The rear vehicle being somewhat automatically at fault is a constructed legal remedy. It's not always an automatic "slam dunk" of liability. My case: I was leaving Phila in freezing rain. In the more urban Rt 30 route, the roads were just wet. Another car was with me light to light. She'd leave the light fast ..I'd putt-putt along and we'd "play tag" at every light on the way out. At one particular light, there was a rise/hill to a more suburban area (a university) that was apparently a barrier to colder air. She went over the hill, I followed about 30 seconds later. She got halfway down the hill (not really steep, rather unremarkable) and notices several cars in various positions on the side of the road. She slammed on her brakes and turned broad side. I attempted to navigate around her and attempted to climb the curb (this was from about 100+' where I slid down the curb and we collided. She sued. State Farm took it to trial. The jury, when polled after the verdict, found me 45% responsible for the accident. If they had found me 50% negligent, the plaintiff would have received 50% of what would have been awarded (after all the calculations) of what she would have been awarded if I was 100% responsible. Since she was determined to be more responsible than I was, she got nothing. I wish I could have made that shorter. This was in the 80's ..so reforms may have taken place since.
 
Messages
167
Location
ID, US
 Originally Posted By: Gary Allan
My case: I was leaving Phila in freezing rain. In the more urban Rt 30 route, the roads were just wet. Another car was with me light to light. She'd leave the light fast ..I'd putt-putt along and we'd "play tag" at every light on the way out. At one particular light, there was a rise/hill to a more suburban area (a university) that was apparently a barrier to colder air. She went over the hill, I followed about 30 seconds later. She got halfway down the hill (not really steep, rather unremarkable) and notices several cars in various positions on the side of the road. She slammed on her brakes and turned broad side. I attempted to navigate around her and attempted to climb the curb (this was from about 100+' where I slid down the curb and we collided. She sued. State Farm took it to trial. The jury, when polled after the verdict, found me 45% responsible for the accident. If they had found me 50% negligent, the plaintiff would have received 50% of what would have been awarded (after all the calculations) of what she would have been awarded if I was 100% responsible. Since she was determined to be more responsible than I was, she got nothing. I wish I could have made that shorter. This was in the 80's ..so reforms may have taken place since.
This is a very good point. Rarely do you see 100% fault on one side or the other.
 
Messages
12,385
Location
Northern CA
 Originally Posted By: Gary Allan
She sued. State Farm took it to trial. The jury, when polled after the verdict, found me 45% responsible for the accident. If they had found me 50% negligent, the plaintiff would have received 50% of what would have been awarded (after all the calculations) of what she would have been awarded if I was 100% responsible. Since she was determined to be more responsible than I was, she got nothing.
Under Turkish law in Adana Turkey in the early 1960s you were at least 10% responsible no matter what in a traffic accident. If you hadn't been there it wouldn't of happened.
 
Messages
989
Location
Iowa
Like Gary said, the rear-end collision is an interesting beast. I slid into the back of someone nearly four years ago. Here's the situation: I was riding along on a by-pass route that was four lanes and heavily congested. A rather tall truck cut me off in my own lane and there was only about one foot of distance between the two of us. I slowed to give some more room between us, but before I got more than three feet away, he slammed on his brakes. I hit mine as hard as I could, but there was no way I wasn't hitting him. When the cop investigated, he actually gave the other guy a ticket and let me go once he saw the skidmarks I left trying to avoid the collision. Even my insurance company didn't feel I was responsible.
 
Messages
39,806
Location
Pottstown, PA
Keep in mind that there are situations where you're technically responsible, but not chargeable (as in doing something wrong). There are situations where doing nothing wrong doesn't assure that you haven't failed to avoid something. Walking along and getting hit by a meteorite might be one example. A state trooper friend of mine would frequently write both a citation to have the magistrate figure it out. Then the situation was reverted back to the principles in the accident in a "if you don't show to my hearing, I won't show to yours" type thing.
 
Messages
6,367
Location
Midwest
 Originally Posted By: Kestas
 Originally Posted By: Pop_Rivit
Faulty brake lights/burned out bulbs happen and they're not really an excuse for hitting another vehicle. What if the other driver is using their manual transmission to slow down and not using the brakes until they are right at the light?
I don't think it's fair to expect the person behind you to safely stop when your brake lights don't work. I've had enough scares myself to realize this fact.
Have you tried increasing your following distance? I've been behind a number if cars with one or more faulty brake lights and never been in danger of hitting them. It does take a measure of expertise and foresight to recognise and adjust for the situation.
 
Messages
39,781
Location
Great Lakes
 Originally Posted By: Pop_Rivit
Have you tried increasing your following distance?
Depends where you drive. Try doing that in Chicago area, and you'll get 10 different dumb-asses who will squeeze in that extra space that you've created between yourself and the vehicle ahead.
 
Messages
350
Location
austin, texas
brake light or no, it is your responsibility not to hit the car in front of you. you do so by staying far enough behind to allow you to safely come to a stop. it does not matter if other cars would "pull in front of you"; let them hit the car that was in front of you. you are always required to maintain a safe distance. since you stated this has happened to you other times, i would guess you are FAR from keeping a safe distance on a regular basis. you got lucky this time, you might not the next. greatly increase your distance, let others do as they wish, but YOU increase your distance.
 

calvin1

Thread starter
Messages
779
Location
Indiana, USA
 Originally Posted By: mikeinaustin
brake light or no, it is your responsibility not to hit the car in front of you. you do so by staying far enough behind to allow you to safely come to a stop. it does not matter if other cars would "pull in front of you"; let them hit the car that was in front of you. you are always required to maintain a safe distance. since you stated this has happened to you other times, i would guess you are FAR from keeping a safe distance on a regular basis. you got lucky this time, you might not the next. greatly increase your distance, let others do as they wish, but YOU increase your distance.
Which is safer:
  • Remaining vigilant over a less than ideal following distance that you know you can maintain
  • Repeatedly experience near-miss fender benders because fools will ALWAYS squeeze into a proper 2 second gap in urban traffic
You CAN'T keep a good following distance in urban traffic. Even if you put your car in PARK there would still be people too close to your front bumper. The only way to keep a sufficient amount of open space in front of you would be to drive backwards and I won't be convinced that that's safe.
 
Top