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When dealing with rear-end road traffic collisions, there is usually an assumption that the rear vehicle is 100% at fault, but a recent case has turned this around

When dealing with rear-end road traffic collisions, there is usually an assumption that the rear vehicle is 100% at fault irrespective of whether the driver of the vehicle in front drove in a way that somehow contributed to the accident.

However, in a recent Scottish decision heard in the All-Scotland Personal Injury Court, this general assumption was turned on its head.

The case of Leslie O'Donnell v Lisa Smith  involved a motorcyclist who was injured after crashing into the back of a car which performed an unnecessary “emergency stop” on the A82 just outside of Tarbert.

The Court heard evidence that Mr O’Donnell was an experienced motorcyclist and was on a tour with two of his friends, one of whom was a police officer. He was travelling along the A82 at around 55-60mph and caught up with a car being driven by Lisa Smith. She was travelling at around 50mph. It was accepted that Mr O’Donnell took up position around 50-60 metres behind Ms Smith. The other two motorcyclists were travelling behind Mr O’Donnell at respective distances of 50 metres each.

Ms Smith’s own evidence was that she became “apprehensive” when she saw the three motorcyclists in her rear-view mirror. She then braked so harshly that she performed an emergency stop. Mr O’Donnell braked hard but was unfortunately unable to avoid colliding with the rear of Ms Smith’s vehicle, sustaining fractures to his right wrist and right knee.

It was not in dispute that Ms Smith performed an emergency stop but the case was defended based upon an argument that Mr O’Donnell was riding “too close” to her and that he was travelling “too fast”.

The leading Scottish Court authority on maintaining a safe distance states that:

 “there is no single rule that specifies the distance that should separate two vehicles travelling one behind another. But a following driver should drive in such a manner as to be able to deal with all traffic exigencies reasonably to be anticipated”.

In this case, the Sheriff concluded that there was no “legitimate reason” for Ms Smith to be apprehensive of the presence of the motorcyclists and that looking at the circumstances in their entirety, there was “no reason whatsoever for her to brake”. There was nothing ahead of her to give her reason to suddenly stop and a sharp braking manoeuvre was held to be “inappropriate”. Ultimately, the Court held that Ms Smith breached her duty towards other road users and that her negligence caused the accident. Mr O’Donnell was awarded a total of £47,000 in damages. 

The Highway Code stipulates that a road user should leave enough space between them and the vehicle in front so that they can stop safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. Likewise, the Highway Code also requires drivers to maintain a steady speed without sudden changes of speed or direction.

What does this mean for rear-end road traffic collisions?

Each case will of course turn on its own facts and circumstances, and issues to carefully consider will be whether there was any legitimate reason for the vehicle in front to brake suddenly or whether the person driving the vehicle behind could reasonably anticipate that the one in front would suddenly slow down. Safe braking distances will always be a key issue to consider. The point to take away is simply that there is no steadfast rule which means that a rear-end collision will automatically give rise to negligence on the part of the following driver.

If you have been involved in a road traffic collision and think that you may have a claim, please contact us to discuss the matter on 0800 988 8082 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of our specialist team will get back to you right away. 

 

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