In many rear-end collisions, the motorist following behind is determined to be at fault for the accident, but this isn't an ironclad rule. In some cases, the lead driver could be completely or partially responsible for causing the crash.

Why a Driver Who Rear-Ends Another Is Often Presumed Negligent

When is the front driver responsible for a rear-end collision?In California, there's an assumption the following driver is at fault in causing a rear-end collision. However, this is a rebuttable presumption—which means the courts accept this fact until provided evidence to the contrary. 

This presumption is based on common California laws that motorists frequently violate, including:

  • Following too closely. The law states the distance between your car and the one in front of you must be "reasonable and prudent for the conditions of the road."
    This is approximately three seconds, which is determined by waiting until the car ahead of you passes a certain point, then counting for three seconds until you reach that point. If you get there too quickly, you're following too closely.
  • Speeding. Our state's basic speed law means "you may never drive faster than is safe for current conditions." All individuals are required to drive at a speed that is safe and prudent. Speeding reduces the allowable stopping distance between vehicles.
  • Driving while distracted. It's illegal in California to drive with a cellphone in your hand—and according to the California Office of Traffic Safety, "increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times." Other behaviors such as grooming, eating, reading—even reaching for items in the car—might result in a reckless driving citation.

However, without 100 percent certainty that the rear driver is negligent, there's always a chance to prove otherwise.

When the Lead Driver Can Be at Fault in a Rear-End Accident

There are many instances where the lead driver's behaviors or vehicle conditions are proven to be reasons for a rear-end crash. Here are causes for complete or partial liability:

  • Pulling out in front of another vehicle.
  • Braking suddenly without a reasonable cause.
  • Making an unsafe lane change right in front of another vehicle.
  • Reversing into another vehicle.
  • Road rage actions, such as slamming on his brakes when traffic didn't require it.
  • Vehicle brakes or brake lights didn't work.
  • Stopping to, then not executing, a turn.
  • His vehicle broke down, and he didn't take reasonable steps to pull over to the side of the road.
  • He intentionally braked suddenly with the intention of causing a collision to perpetrate insurance fraud.

As in other types of auto collisions, only a driver found negligent in causing the crash can be held liable for compensating victims who suffered injuries. 

Are you facing a rear-end accident injury claim?  Even if the other driver is determined to be at fault, this doesn't mean his insurance company will voluntarily pay the financial recovery you deserve. You need the help of an experienced car accident attorney. To learn about my track record of success helping other auto crash victims and how I can assist you, call my office to schedule a free consultation today.


Mark Blane
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San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer | California Car Accident Attorney