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What is the Rear-End Collision Law in Tennessee?

Rear-end collisions are some of the most common types of car accidents.  When someone hits you from behind, you could be left with whiplash injuries, low-back injuries, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and surprisingly severe damage to your vehicle, especially if the crash happened at high speeds.  So what does the law say in Tennessee about who is at fault for a rear-end crash?

Generally speaking, tailgating or following too closely is illegal in Tennessee.  This means that when one driver crashes into another from behind, the accident is usually the rear driver’s fault.  The driver in front can often file an insurance claim against them or sue them for damages, but there are some exceptions – and getting full damages still might require the help of an experienced attorney.

For help with your case, call the Tennessee car accident lawyers at Howe Law today at (844) 876-4357.

What Does Tennessee Law Say About Rear-End Collisions?

Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-124 makes “following too closely” – or what we’d usually call “tailgating” – illegal.  This means that if a driver crashes into you after following too closely, the law will usually hold them at fault.  However, as with most legal issues, there are some grey areas and complexities that often benefit from the assistance of an experienced Tennessee car accident lawyer.

How Close is “Too Close”?

A law against following too closely must have some sort of cutoff defining how close is “too close.”  However, drivers are never on the highway with measuring tapes looking to find out whether they are precisely five feet back or five and a half feet back, and so a precise distance might not be very helpful.  Additionally, at lower speeds, you do not need as much room to stop and can generally stay a bit closer to the vehicle in front of you than you can at higher speeds.

To deal with this, the law simply says that you cannot come closer than what “is reasonable and prudent,” and the text of the statute specifically says to factor the car’s speed, the speed of traffic, and the road conditions into this determination  This means that the facts of each case will generally need to be judged by the parties involved, any police officers trying to issue a ticket, and any courts or insurance companies hearing a car accident case.

Safety experts vary in recommendations about how close is too close.  If the driver would be unable to stop their car safely in the distance they left themselves, that likely qualifies as too close under most of these recommendations.  Ultimately, the fact that an accident did indeed result will usually be enough to convince a court that the driver was, in fact, too close.

Penalties for Tailgating Violations

According to subsection (e) of this statute, a tailgating violation is a Class C misdemeanor.  This sounds pretty severe, but this level of offense is common for traffic violations and can result in a fine of up to $50 or a 30-day jail sentence – though jail time is usually never issued for traffic violations.

Who is at Fault for a Rear-End Crash in Tennessee?

As mentioned, because the law makes it illegal to tailgate, any crash involving tailgating is usually the rear driver’s fault.  However, there are some complex scenarios where a rear-end accident might have a different outcome in court:

The Other Driver is Backing Up

If a driver crashes into you while backing up, you are technically the driver “to the rear.”  One could look at this as you following too closely, but these crashes usually happen in situations where that framework does not make sense and the tailgating law would not apply.

For example, if you are stopped at a red light and the driver in front of you is too far into the intersection and decides to back up, they would likely be at fault for hitting you.  Similarly, if a car pulls out of a parking space while you are stopped in the parking lot, that would also be their fault.  Even if you were driving, a driver who suddenly backs out into you would likely be at fault, as they are supposed to yield to other drivers when reversing.

Stopping in an Emergency

The tailgating law exists to create space between cars and ensure that everyone has enough space to stop if there is an emergency.  If you are in front of another car and you need to stop suddenly for an emergency – like a child running into the street – then you should have the space to do so.  If the driver behind you did not give themselves enough space to stop, then they could be at fault for crashing into your car in front of them.

However, this usually only applies if the driver in front had a good reason to stop and was being reasonable when they slammed on the brakes.  Reasonable justifications for a sudden stop might include animals or people entering the roadway, hidden dangers like potholes, or obstructions hidden around blind corners.  However, it might not be reasonable to stop suddenly because you misjudged your speed or were not paying attention and noticed a stop sign too late.

“Brake Check” Accidents

Sometimes, drivers stop suddenly or tap on their brakes in order to scare the car behind them or force them into a crash.  While the law might make it illegal for the other driver to follow them too closely, the law also makes it illegal to intentionally or recklessly cause a crash.  Drivers must use “due care” while driving under § 55-8-136, or else they commit a violation as well.

Often, it will be up to the court – specifically the jury – to determine whether the brake check was intentional or whether it was actually a justifiable emergency stop.  They will also be the ones to judge whether the driver was in fact following too closely or whether the driver in front actually caused the initial danger in the first place.

Getting “Cut Off”

If a driver pulls out in front of you into a space that was too small for them, and you hit them, it is likely that they would be at fault.  If they did not have adequate space to move into, that would be a violation of either § 55-8-128 or § 55-8-130, requiring drivers to yield when entering the roadway.  Often, courts side with drivers who were diligently following the rules of the road and against drivers who recklessly insert themselves into tight spaces, but it is always a fact-based issue.

Call Our Tennessee Car Accident Lawyers Today

For help with your case, reach out to the Nashville car accident attorneys at Howe Law by dialing (844) 876-4357.

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