People can’t take their eyes off a car accident if the traffic back ups on the opposite side of the highway is any indication. However, we all seem to see something different because understanding what happened in the accident is difficult to judge from cars on the side of the roadway. What is important to you, as someone who has been in an accident, is how the insurance adjusters and attorneys will be looking at the facts of the accident to determine what, if anything, you are entitled to for compensation.
Speed, Lookout, Evasive Action, Point of impact and Right of Way. These are the factors professionals of liability insurance and tort law use to determine who is at fault. They keep in mind how a reasonable driver would react under the circumstances.
Right of Way
The rules of the road determine the reasonable behavior of each of us as a driver. We start learning them even before we take the wheel of our parent’s car to drive under their supervision. In the United States and Canada we drive on the right side of the road. We wait for vehicles to pass by before entering the road. We learn more rules taking a driver education course: Left turns are yield turns so wait for traffic to pass before turning left. Some rules we only know because they are in statutes like travel no closer than 100 feet behind an emergency vehicle. Some rules it is clear that a large segment of the population either don’t know or don’t car to follow: Bicycles belong on the right side of the road riding with traffic. If you are violating one of these rules of the road and have an accident with another vehicle, you likely violated the right of way of the other vehicle because you did not have the right of way.
The faster a vehicle is traveling the less chance that vehicle will have to avoid an unexpected situation that confronts the driver. Therefore, the liability put on the driver in an accident will increase proportionally to the perception that the driver was going an unsafe speed. 65 miles per hour is a safe speed on an open interstate highway. However, if there is snow accumulating and traffic backing up on that same interstate highway, 65 miles per hour is probably not safe and would be judged unreasonable if an accident occurred because a driver failed to notice these two important factors. Twenty miles per hour is generally a safe speed in a residential neighborhood. However, if five year olds are playing with a ball close to the street that might be judged to have been an unreasonable speed to travel if one of the children chases the ball in front of your car.
What speed the vehicles were traveling can be difficult to know. The driver is generally asked by a responding police officer but the accuracy of the driver may be limited by his wishful thinking. Other methods to learn the speeds of vehicles are skid marks left on the road and damage to the vehicles. The type and condition of the road are important when analyzing skid marks because dry asphalt will stop a vehicle faster than wet asphalt. The amount of damage to the vehicles indicate speed because of the physics principle that force equals mass times acceleration. In other words, you swing a hammer fast to hit a nail because bringing the hammer slowly to the nail will not create enough force to move the nail.