California Vehicle Code section 21703 VC is the state law that commonly deals with rear-end collisions. This section prohibits drivers from following other vehicles too closely. Also known as tailgating, this practice is frequently the cause of rear-end car accidents. However, not all rear-end crashes are the result of tailgating. Some are even the fault of the leading driver.
What is the main California law on rear-end car accidents?
The main section in the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that deals with rear-end car crashes is 21703 VC. This is the law that penalizes drivers who do not follow other vehicles at a safe distance. Also known as tailgating, this is the most common cause of rear-end collisions. If the trailing driver gets a ticket for tailgating, he or she will most likely be held liable for the accident.
21703 VC does not specify exactly how close is too close, though. Instead, it merely forbids the driver of a motor vehicle from following “another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent.”1 A following distance that is reasonable and prudent will depend on:
- the speed of the vehicles,
- road conditions,
- weather conditions,
- the stopping distances of the vehicles, and
- any other relevant circumstances.
If a driver is ticketed for tailgating after a rear-end crash, the leading driver can use the ticket as per se evidence that the trailing driver was negligent in an accident case for compensation. This is a very strong showing that the trailing driver’s conduct caused the crash and should be held liable for the results.
Violations of 21703 VC are traffic offenses in the state of California. These are infractions that carry a fine and other driving penalties. Tickets for tailgating will lead to:
- a $238 fine, and
- 1 point being added to the driver’s record with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Points added to a driver’s DMV record are also reported to the driver’s auto insurer. This can lead to an increase in the driver’s insurance rates. Those increases can last up to several years.
Are there other important laws for rear-end accidents?
Yes, there are other sections in the California Vehicle Code that can occasionally become a factor after a rear-end collision.
California Vehicle Code 22350 VC forbids drivers from going faster than is reasonable or safe, or at a speed that endangers others. This is the state’s basic speed law. It can be invoked in a rear-end collision case if the trailing driver was going at an unsafe speed or was above the speed limit. It can also be a factor in California car accident cases if the leading driver slams on the brakes for no reason, suddenly dropping their speed low enough that it imperils the others on the road.
California Vehicle Code 22100.5 VC forbids making a U-turn unless it is safe to do so. This law holds that drivers who turn left or who make a complete U-turn have to yield the right-of-way to all of the vehicles that are coming in the opposite direction. 22100.5 VC can be invoked after a rear-end crash if the driver making the U-turn did not provide enough time for them to regain their speed after making the turn, and this caused a car in the oncoming traffic to collide into the rear-end of the turning vehicle.
How often do these auto accidents happen?
Rear-end collisions are among the most common types of vehicle accidents to happen in the U.S. However, they are less likely to be fatal than some other types of accidents.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 29 percent of the car accidents that produced a serious injury were rear-end collisions.2
However, the Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that rear-end collisions only account for 7.2 percent of all roadway fatalities.3
Is tailgating always the cause of a rear-end collision?
While tailgating is the most common cause of a rear-end crash, it is not the only one. In some cases, the driver of the car that gets hit in the rear can be the cause of the crash.
Examples of the rear driver causing a rear-end collision without tailgating are:
- driving under the influence (DUI),
- driving while distracted, or
- trying to run a red light
Examples of the leading motorist causing a rear-end crash include:
- deliberately braking suddenly in an act of road rage,
- driving with taillights or brake lights that do not work,
- reversing into the car behind them,
- merging onto a road or making a lane change when there is not room to do so safely, and
- intentionally slamming on the brakes to cause a crash in order to commit insurance fraud.
Determining how the accident happened is important for assigning fault and liability. A skilled personal injury lawyer or a car accident lawyer from a local law firm can help victims file an injury claim. A car accident attorney can also help victims file an accident claim with their insurance company for compensation.
What are some common injuries in these crashes?
Rear-end collisions cause certain types of injuries that are relatively rare in other accidents. Some of the most common injuries in rear-end accidents include:
- neck strains,
- strained or torn muscles in the core or around the ribcage,
- a concussion from hitting the headrest, and
- back injuries.
Some of these injuries can be debilitating and surprisingly difficult to treat. A local personal injury attorney can provide victims the legal advice they need to recover compensation for their injuries, as well as for their property damage.
- California Vehicle Code 21703 VC.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Analyses of Rear-End Crashes and Near-Crashes in the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study to Support Rear-Signaling Countermeasure Development,” October 2007.
- Insurance Information Institute, “Facts and Statistics: Highway Safety.”