Can I Fight a Ticket for Rear-Ending Another Driver?

Traffic citations related to rear-end accidents.

Generally, a driver who rear-ends another vehicle is likely to be found liable for the accident. But a rear-end collision can also result in a traffic citation. Here are some of the traffic violations that might come into play when a driver causes a rear-end accident.

Following Too Closely

The cause of many rear-end collisions is one vehicle following another vehicle too closely—often called "tailgating." Depending on what state you live in, tailgating is an infraction or a misdemeanor. Definitions vary, but you can typically be cited for tailgating for:

  • following another vehicle more closely than is "reasonable and prudent," or
  • failing to leave sufficient space in front of your vehicle so that another vehicle can enter and occupy that space safely (outside residential and business districts).

Of course, crashing into the back of another vehicle is often an indication that you were following it more closely than you should have been.

Distracted Driving

Even if you weren't following another vehicle too closely, losing focus for just a moment while driving can lead to a rear-end collision.

Most states—including California and New York—have distracted driving laws that prohibit drivers from using a handheld cellphone or text messaging while operating a vehicle. Some states, like Wisconsin, also have more general laws that make it illegal to do anything while driving that distracts from operating the vehicle safely. These more general laws can apply to activities like eating, putting on makeup, reading a newspaper, and the like.

If you rear-ended someone because you were focused on some task other than driving (like sending a text message), a distracted driving ticket is a possibility. Distracted driving is normally a traffic infraction. But some states make distracted driving a misdemeanor when the violation involved a collision.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is one of the more serious offenses you could be charged with for causing a rear-end accident. States have different definitions of reckless driving. But most reckless driving laws prohibit operating a vehicle in a manner that shows a "willful" disregard for the safety of other persons or property.

Just accidentally rear-ending someone probably wouldn't qualify as reckless driving. However, if you rear-end another vehicle while driving in an extremely dangerous way (excessive speeding, for example), reckless driving charges are a possibility. Reckless driving is normally a misdemeanor offense.

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