All drivers have a duty to maintain a safe following distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. This is one of the most commonly violated rules of the road, resulting in numerous collisions and injuries in New Jersey on a daily basis. N.J.S.A. 39:4-89 reads as follows:
The driver of a vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard to the speed of the preceding vehicle and the traffic upon, and condition of, the highway. N.J.S.A. 39:4-89.
In Dolson v. Anastasia, the New Jersey Supreme Court provided clear guidance on the above statute. The Court stated that it is elementary that a following car in the same lane of traffic is obligated to maintain a reasonably safe distance behind the car ahead, having due regard to the speed of the preceding vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway…the failure to do so resulting in a collision is negligence.
The principles embodied in Dolson have been applied to numerous cases in New Jersey, providing standards and guidelines for rear-end motor vehicle collisions. In Jones v. Bennet it was held that a driver who was rear-ended was not negligent when his vehicle stalled, coasted to a stop in the middle of the highway, and was rear-ended less than a minute later. The preceding driver in Jones was not maintaining a “safe following distance” behind the stalled vehicle. A “safe following distance”, as defined in Jones, means that if a driver makes a sudden stop, the preceding driver should be able to safely avoid them.
By reading the applicable statute and interpretive case law, it is clear that a New Jersey driver must maintain a reasonably safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of them. Under normal road conditions (i.e. no inclement weather and clear line of sight), a driver is expected to maintain a following distance of about 1 car length per 10 MPH the vehicle is traveling. Failure to maintain this distance could result in a collision and serious injuries.
Rear-end collisions are common and the injuries sustained in these accidents can be devastating. Common head and neck injuries, that may not be readily apparent on the day of the accident, could manifest in the coming days or weeks, and result in thousands of dollars in medical treatment. While your insurance company may cover some of the costs, it may not cover all of your medical bills or compensate you for your pain, suffering and other damages. Thus, if you are involved in a rear-end collision, it is important to contact an attorney to recover the damages to which you are entitled.
By: Andrew L. Chambarry