Rear-end Accident Fault: Always the rear driver?

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It seems like it should be clear-cut that if there is a vehicle stopped and another vehicle hits them, the rear vehicle should bear responsibility for any injuries caused. But, in truth, the question of rear-end accident fault can be a complex one. If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a rear-end collision, you need the help of a Washington car accident attorney. Contact Max Meyers today.

What are the rules of the road relevant to rear-end collisions?

Drivers are required to maintain a safe distance between the front of their vehicle and the back of another. This is why, in most cases, many automatically assume that the driver of the car that hits another is at fault. Police officers can give drivers tickets for following too closely, which means they did not maintain a reasonable distance under RCW § 46.61.145

How close is too close?

According to the Washington State Department of Licensing’s Washington Driver Guide, you should follow two to three seconds behind a car at 30 mph, four seconds behind at higher speeds. Different scenarios require different distances but the goal is to be able to stop in enough time to not hit the car in front of you. For instance:

  • The speed and road conditions of the traveled road must be taken into account. What is a safe distance on a residential road may not be safe on a highway where traveling speeds are considerably higher.
  • Bad weather, such as snow, ice, even rain and fog can make both visibility and stopping time more complicated. Be sure to leave extra time and space to be able to come to a stop safely.
  • Heavy traffic situations, which usually result in cars getting closer together since no one wants to leave room for another driver, actually require more instead of less distance.

Can it ever be the fault of the front car driver?

In short, if the driver of the front car does something that made it impossible for the rear driver to stop in time, then yes, they can be at fault. What kind of behavior might that be? For example:

  • If they were driving with their rear lights out so the car behind had no way of knowing they were stopped
  • If they were to suddenly start backing up, obviously, and hit the car behind them, it would be their fault
  • If they suffered a breakdown and simply sat in the car instead of turning on the hazards or moving it to the side of the road. This does not absolve a rear-end driver from responsibility, but shifts part of the responsibility.


At the end of the day, if you were involved in a rear-end collision, either as the rear or lead car, you need legal counsel. Injuries in a car accident can be significant and expensive and the issues of responsibility are legal questions best left to a professional. Contact Max Meyers Law PLLC at 425-399-7000 for legal advice and counsel.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.