Is the car behind always at fault in a rear-end car accident?

It is a common perception that in a rear-end car accident, the rear car that collided with the car in front is always found to be at fault.  While that makes a certain amount of common sense, there is no law in Texas that says the rear vehicle is always at fault, and there are different accident facts where it would be unfair to hold the driver of the rear car responsible in a rear-ender car accident.

Texas Transportation Code Section 545.062 is the statute that speaks most directly to rear-end accidents.  The statute says: “An operator shall, if following another vehicle, maintain an assured clear distance between the two vehicles so that, considering the speed of the vehicles, traffic, and the conditions of the highway the operator can safely stop without colliding with the preceding vehicle or veering into another vehicle, object, or person on or near the highway.” Tex. Transp. Code Sec. 545.062(a).

In plain language this means that everyone driving on public roads in Texas has a duty to keep enough distance from the vehicle in front that, considering speed, road condition, traffic, and so on, the rear vehicle can stop safely without hitting the car in front. This does not mean however that simply because a vehicle hits the vehicle in front, the rear vehicle is 100% at fault for the accident.

We have all had the experience where we are driving on a busy freeway and traffic backs up near a heavily used exit.  Sometimes people will ride the lane next to the exit lane and then cut in at the last minute, usually because they don’t want to wait in the lane that is backed up. If another driver cut in front of you at the last minute and locked up their brakes, causing you to rear-end their vehicle, the other driver would probably be found at fault because they cut you off and interfered with your stopping distance.  Put another way, you were driving at a safe and reasonable speed in your lane and the only reason the accident happened is because the other driver cut in front of you and braked suddenly.  Fact patterns such as this can make for difficult claims unless the driver who cuts you off is completely honest about what they did.  Unfortunately the person who did the cutting-off often seems to forget how they cut-in at the last minute when the police arrive, and will just tell the officer they were rear-ended.  In a situation such as this, an independent witness can be extremely important: the witness can state that they saw the front car cut-off the rear car and cause the collision.

If you were involved in a rear-end collision, whether as the front car or rear car, you can consult with a Smith & Hassler attorney at no charge for advice on your specific case.