The National Safety Council recommends that when trailing behind another vehicle, drivers maintain a minimum distance of four seconds between cars – and that’s in good weather and on dry roads. The Florida Driver Handbook section 5.30.1 indicates drivers should, at minimum, follow the two-second rule, which means there is at least two seconds between when the vehicle ahead passes a fixed point and when the vehicle behind passes that same point. atthewheel

This is why rear drivers in rear-end collisions are presumed to be at-fault because they are required to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead. It’s a foreseeable risk that the car ahead might stop suddenly or swerve to avoid some danger. The drivers behind them have to reasonably anticipate this and be prepared to react fast.

Recently in Rhode Island, the state supreme court weighed a question of whether a driver who is stopped also has a duty to maintain a certain distance. The plaintiff driver who was at the head of a succession of vehicles stopped on a roadway just before involvement in a three-vehicle, chain-reaction crash sued both other drivers. We’ll call plaintiff Vehicle No. 1. She took action against both driver of Vehicle No. 2, in the car directly behind hers, and driver of Vehicle No. 3, who failed to yield for Vehicle No. 2, which was at a complete stop.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court was asked to consider whether driver of Vehicle No. 2 could be negligent because it was undisputed he was at a complete stop behind Vehicle No. 1 at the time of the crash.

According to court records in Wray v. Green, all three vehicles were traveling the same direction on a two-way street. Vehicle No. 1 stopped near the entrance of a private drive in order to make a left turn. Vehicle No. 2 stopped directly behind her. Both vehicles were stopped for “several minutes,” waiting for Vehicle No. 1 to have the chance to turn, when Vehicle No. 3 approached from the rear. He failed to stop for Vehicle No. 2. The impact of being struck by Vehicle No. 3 propelled Vehicle No. 2 into Vehicle No. 1. That first driver sustained injuries as a result of impact.

Her action against Vehicle No. 3 was fairly clear-cut, as there is a rebuttable presumption of fault on the part of the rear driver in rear-end car accidents. But was driver of Vehicle No. 2 negligent, even though he was totally stopped?

Plaintiff cited G.L. 1956 section 31-15-12, which bars all drivers from following another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” The statute also states that when overtaking a vehicle, drivers have to give enough space so that the maneuver isn’t dangerous. Plaintiff alleged Vehicle No. 2 stopped too closer to her, and if he had left more space between their vehicles, the impact of being struck by Vehicle No. 3 wouldn’t have propelled Vehicle No. 2 into Vehicle No. 1.

Driver of Vehicle No. 2 moved for summary judgment. He argued he was not negligent, and plaintiff had presented no evidence indicating he was too close to her vehicle. Trial court agreed and granted summary judgment.

Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed, noting plaintiff had not presented any specific evidence indicating how much space was between the vehicles or how much space would have actually been required under the circumstances.

Her negligence claim against driver of Vehicle No. 3 will proceed.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Wray v. Green, Dec. 14, 2015, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Joerg v. State Farm – Florida Supreme Court Rules on Collateral Source Evidence, Dec. 2, 2015, Miami Personal Injury Attorney Blog