Georgia’s Rule on Following Too Closely Explained
The rules of the road can be an invaluable tool for determining liability after an accident. Under normal circumstances, in order to receive a settlement for an injury, a plaintiff must not only prove that the defendant caused the injury, but that they did so while behaving in a negligent manner. For example, a driver who runs someone over while drunk is obviously negligent, while a driver with no history of seizures who runs someone over while having one for the first time has done nothing wrong, even though the person who was run over is just as hurt.
Of course, not all situations are as clear-cut as that. Proving negligence can be a tricky and subjective matter, because it’s based on the reasonable person standard. Negligent behavior is behavior a reasonable person would not engage in, because of the obvious risk of causing harm.
What a “reasonable person” would do may sound vague, and it can be, but thankfully, there are a few concrete standards for reasonable behavior. One of them is adherence to all rules and laws, including traffic statutes, designed to protect public safety. In other words, if someone breaks one of the rules of the road and causes harm to another person, the rule-breaker’s actions are automatically considered negligent. That’s called negligence per se.
Last week in our ongoing series on Georgia’s rules of the road and how they can be used to establish negligence per se, we discussed statutes 40-6-47 and 40-6-240, which concern one-way streets, lanes, and traffic circles. This week, we’ll talk about 40-6-49, which deals with following the driver ahead of you too closely.
How Close Is Too Close?
This is one of the less helpful statutes for the purpose of clearing up ambiguity and establishing negligence per se, because no acceptable following distance is actually stated. Rather, it’s up to a jury to decide what following distance qualifies as “reasonable and prudent,” given all aspects of the situation at hand.
§ 40-6-49. Following too closely
(a) The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.
Sharp-eyed readers may note how similar this is to the “reasonable person” standard used for determining liability when there are no broken laws at all to help clarify things. Nevertheless, if you’ve been rear-ended by a driver who was following too closely, statute 40-6-49 is still your friend. While road conditions and other factors must be taken into account to determine a “reasonable” following distance, this statute helps start things off in your favor. After all, if someone can’t brake in time to avoid crashing into you from behind, that’s strong evidence in and of itself that they were following unreasonably closely. To prove otherwise, they’ll need to make a pretty compelling argument as to how the crash was caused by something else — something they couldn’t reasonably account for when setting their following distance.
This same logic also applies to rear-end collisions that happen at intersections, when the front car is trying to make a turn.
(d) Vehicles which approach from the rear any other vehicle or vehicles stopped or slowed to make a lawful turn shall be deemed to be following for purposes of this Code section.
That doesn’t mean you have to leave car-lengths of distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you while stopped at an intersection, just that you need to keep enough distance to avoid accidents. That’s where the “reasonable and prudent” distance actually makes a lot more sense than a set number of feet. The amount of space necessary for safety in a stopped lane in front of a red light is far different from the amount necessary while moving at full speed on the freeway.
Is That Really All the Guidance the Law Offers?
For general following distance, yes, but for tow trucks, tractor trailers, and any other vehicle that’s pulling another vehicle, 40-6-49 offers a few more specifics.
(b) The driver of any motor vehicle which is drawing another vehicle when traveling upon a roadway outside of a business or residential district and which is following another motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle shall, whenever conditions permit, leave sufficient space so that an overtaking vehicle may enter and occupy such space without danger, except that this shall not prevent a motor truck or motor vehicle drawing another vehicle from overtaking and passing any like vehicle or other vehicle.
In other words, towing vehicles need to leave enough space between themselves for other vehicles to move safely between them, except during the brief moments while they’re changing lanes themselves. Though this section of the statute only applies to towing vehicles, that’s good advice for any driver on the road. If someone could safely merge between you and the vehicle ahead of you, you’re probably keeping a good distance.
Are There Any Exceptions?
Yes. Caravans of vehicles that are escorted by law enforcement are allowed to group more closely together.
(c) Motor vehicles being driven upon any roadway outside of a business or residential district in a caravan or motorcade whether or not towing other vehicles shall be so operated as to allow sufficient space between each such vehicle or combination of vehicles so as to enable any other vehicle to enter and occupy such space without danger. This subsection shall not apply to funeral processions, parades, or other groups of vehicles if such groups of vehicles are under the supervision and control of a law enforcement agency.
As noted, examples of escorted caravans include funeral processions and parades. They do not include friends following each other’s vehicles without an official escort.
Coordinated platoons of vehicles are also exempt from statute 4-6-49.
(e) This Code section shall not apply to the operator of any non-leading vehicle traveling in a coordinated platoon. For purposes of this subsection, the term “coordinated platoon” means a group of motor vehicles traveling in the same lane utilizing vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology to automatically coordinate the movement of such vehicles.
It’s important to note, however that “vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology” does not mean radio or cell phone communication between human drivers. The “coordinated platoon” exemption only applies to automated synchronization, such as AI-based driverless car maneuvers, which reduce or eliminate the dangerous delay of human reaction times.
What Damages Can You Recover After a Rear-End Collision?
If someone crashes into the back of your car as a result of following too closely, you’re likely to suffer from whiplash and related injuries. If the collision happens at high speed, the outcome can be much worse, ranging from brain and spinal damage to fractures and crushing injuries. Even if you feel fine at first, it’s vital that you get checked out for less obvious injuries, and you’ll probably face unexpected expenses and disruptions to your daily life as you work on moving forward after a car accident. The settlement you can obtain to help you put your life back in order will be determined based on two categories: special damages and general damages.
“Special” Damages Pay for Your Financial Losses
To claim special damages, we’ll need to tally up everything you’ve lost on a financial level due to the negligent driver’s actions. From there, we’ll help you prove how those losses were caused by those actions. To learn more about proving proximate or direct cause, click here. Remember, special damages are supposed to account not only for what you’ve already paid out of pocket, but what you’re expected to lose over the course of your lifetime compared with what you would have had if the accident never happened. For example, the vehicle you had to replace and the doctor’s appointments you’ve had so far obviously count as special damages, but if you’re going to need indefinite care or treatment, or if you’ve been left unable to work, that lifetime of care and lost wages counts too.
“General” Damages Compensate for Non-Financial Losses
Even if every penny you’ll ever lose because of your accident is reimbursed, we know you’d prefer never to have to go through all that pain and trouble in the first place. The courts know that too, and that’s what general damages are for. General damages are an extra sum awarded on top of the quantifiable special damages, in acknowledgement of the non-financial things you’ve lost, like the comfort and freedom of your uninjured body, or the time you’ve been forced to spend worrying about the accident and what it means for your future. Different judges and juries value these things very differently, however, so it’s essential to have a skilled lawyer to explain your situation and make sure you get the best settlement possible.
What If Someone Died in the Rear-End Collision?
Legally and emotionally, fatal accidents are a different animal entirely. The Wetherington Law Firm can help you find justice for your lost loved one with a wrongful lawsuit, but these come with their own rules. Click here to learn more about how wrongful death works.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Having someone on your side who knows the ropes can be the difference between a settlement that allows you to care for your family through this difficult period, and one that might buy you half of a used replacement car. At the Wetherington Law Firm, we know the law, we know the process, and we know every trick the auto insurance companies have up their sleeves to avoid paying out fair settlements. When you work with us, you get to spend more time and energy on healing, knowing that you’ll be getting the best possible deal at the end of the day.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
With the Wetherington Law Firm, you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for representation. It’s our job to get you the money you need, not the other way around. The only payment we accept is a contingency fee from the settlements we win for our clients, meaning we only get paid after we get results. We know the time between an accident and a final settlement is full of unexpected and tough-to-manage expenses, and we’ll never add to that burden.
To discuss your case with one of our qualified attorneys in a completely free consultation, reach out today by email or phone!
The Wetherington Law Firm Believes in Litigation as a Tool for Good
If you’re looking for a lawyer who’ll go above and beyond to help you right a wrong that’s bigger than yourself, you’ve come to the right place. We welcome cases that give us the chance to get to the bottom of a problem and solve it before more people can be hurt. If the driver who rear-ended you was driving for a company at the time, for example, we’ll look into their hiring and training policies to figure out if this was an isolated incident or a pattern. If similar accidents have happened on the same stretch of road, we’ll investigate possible flaws in the infrastructure and push to have them fixed. To learn more about how your case might be able to help your community, give us a call today at 404-888-4444!