Traffic tickets have been in national headlines recently. An April 2021 incident, which began when a Minnesota police officer pulled over a driver who had an illegal air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, ended very badly for everyone involved. Other obscure provisions include a license plate frame which partially obscures license plate information and failing to stop before exiting a private driveway.
In terms of vehicle collisions, traffic violations often trigger the negligence per se rule. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who violate traffic laws could be liable for damages as a matter of law, if the traffic infraction substantially caused the wreck. So, this doctrine often applies in moving violations, such as the ones discussed below.
These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Generally, a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain these damages without going to trial. Most negligence claims settle out of court, and on victim-friendly terms. That’s especially true in negligence per se claims. Insurance companies often have a hard time defending these claims from a legal perspective.
No surprise here. Police officers issue lots of speeding tickets, normally because they are relatively easy to prove in court and the fines are relatively high. Note we said “normally” easy to prove. A number of defenses are available, but that’s the subject of a different blog.
As for car wrecks, excessive speed increases the risk of a crash and the force in a collision. Velocity multiples stopping distance. Speeding drivers have less time to react to changing road, traffic, or other conditions. Furthermore, according to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, speed multiples the force in any collision between any two objects.
If the tortfeasor was travelling above the speed limit, the negligence per se rule might apply. In some cases, even if the tortfeasor was travelling below the limit, a collision could be speed-related. For example, drivers have a duty to slow down in the face of rain, darkness, or other adverse environmental conditions. Many drivers ignore this duty.
Changing Lanes Dangerously
Depending on the facts, this violation could be a ticky-tack infraction or the primary contributing factor in an extremely serious vehicle collision.
It’s technically illegal to change lanes without signalling. However, unless another vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot, such lane changes usually shouldn’t trigger car wrecks. The same thing applies to changing lanes too close to an intersection. These lane changes are illegal, even if the driver signals.
At the other end of the scale, there’s the tortfeasor who zips between lanes without looking or signalling. These drivers are not just dangerous. Since they arguably ignore the safety of other drivers in order to get where they are going faster, additional compensation is sometimes available in these claims.
Most dangerous lane changes are somewhere in the middle. The negligence per se rule might or might not apply in these situations.
This infraction is extremely vague in Kentucky. State law requires a driver to “operate the vehicle in a careful manner, with regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians and other vehicles upon the highway.” Strictly by definition, speeding, running a red light, or any other violation on this list could constitute reckless driving.
As a practical matter, officers usually issue reckless driving citations in extreme or combination circumstances. Driving 15mph over the limit is usually speeding. Driving 30mph over the limit is normally reckless driving. Additionally, if a driver speeds through an intersection and runs the light anyway, officers might issue a reckless driving citation.
Reckless driving is usually a misdemeanor in Kentucky. As a result, if the officer issues this citation, the negligence per se doctrine almost always applies. In simple traffic ticket cases, negligence per se is more of a presumption of liability.
Following Too Closely
This section will be relatively short. Tailgating at anything higher than idle speed reduces reaction time to almost nothing. A low-speed tailgating collision often only causes property damage. Since Kentucky is a limited no-fault insurance state, these victims might only be entitled to economic losses in court.
Ignoring a Traffic Control Device
Much like speeding and making an illegal lane change, ignoring a traffic control device could be the critical factor in a car wreck claim or almost a non-factor.
A rolling right turn on red (a/k/a a California stop) is a good example. Some drivers basically yield to oncoming traffic in these situations. They slow down and, unless another vehicle is bearing down on them, they pull into traffic.
California stops rarely contribute to wrecks. However, these drivers sometimes misjudge an approaching vehicle’s speed and therefore miscalculate the amount of time they have to safely pull into traffic. More frequently, however, California stops cause pedestrian collisions.
In these situations, drivers normally only look to the left. They never look to the right until the last minute. Often, they don’t even look then. As a result, they might never see pedestrians who are crossing the street to the right. Since the tortfeasor is usually accelerating through the turn, these wrecks are often tragic.
Traffic citations make many negligence claims easier to prove in court. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these situations. #goodelawyers