Q. According to the law, how safely must I drive?
A. You have to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Negligence
the failure to
exercise such care is the most common basis for liability. However, ordinary
does not mean you are guilty of reckless driving in the criminal sense.
For such driving to
be unlawful, it must be willful or wanton as defined above.
Q. Do I owe a higher standard of care toward pedestrians?
A. No, the same standard applies. Motorists must exercise reasonable
care under the
circumstances toward pedestrians. In practical terms, this means keeping
a careful lookout
for them, and maintaining control over your vehicle to avoid injuring
them. You must also
sound your horn to warn of your approach when you believe that the pedestrian
of the danger. In some states, you must stop if you see a pedestrian anywhere
The law does not, however, expect you to anticipate a pedestrian darting
out into the
Q. Do I owe the same duty of care toward my passengers?
A. Generally, yes, although it may change based on your passengers'
relationship to you.
However, as in all accidents, you will not be liable if a passenger sustains
no fault of your own.
Q. To what standard of care am I held if someone else is driving
my car in which I
am a passenger?
A. The law in some states will assume you still have "control"
over the vehicle. Other
states require the owner to take steps to stop the negligent driving as
soon as the owner
becomes aware of it. In other words, as a car owner, you can be liable
for more than just
your own negligent driving.
Q. Am I legally responsible even if I am not in the car if an
A. Possibly. You still might be liable for property damage, injuries,
and even death if you
permit someone else to operate your defective vehicle, or if you allow
habitually intoxicated, or otherwise incompetent person to drive your
car. The law refers
to this conduct as "negligent entrustment."
Q. What if my child is driving my car and an accident occurs?
A. Some jurisdictions recognize the "family purpose doctrine,"
under which the "head" of
the family who maintains a car for general family use may be held liable
for the negligent
driving of a family member who was authorized to use the vehicle. The
fewer than twenty
states that adhere to this doctrine treat the family member as an agent
of the vehicle
owner, who is presumed to be better able to satisfy property damage and
Q. If I am involved in an accident, must I identify myself to
other involved parties?
A. In the past, common law did not require you to give your name
before leaving an
accident scene. Modern laws that require you to identify yourself after
an accident in
which someone is hurt or killed have survived court challenges. You should
yourself to a police officer (see below), and show your license and proof
coverage if asked. Otherwise, you do not have to, and probably should
not, say anything.
Specifically, do not reveal how much insurance coverage you have, or admit
|What You Should Do If You Have an Accident
If possible, park on the shoulder of the road and do not obstruct
traffic. Use your car's
flashers or flares to warn approaching motorists of the accident.
If asked, give your name,
address, vehicle registration certificate, and proof of insurance
to the other driver. Get the
same information from the other driver.
Write down the names and addresses of all passengers and possible
get the names and badge numbers of any police officers who respond
to the scene. If you
have a camera handy, photograph damaged cars, skid marks, and the
accident scene. Draw
a diagram of the accident and make notes about the weather, lighting
conditions, and road
conditions. Most important, help any persons who are injured.
Do not make any statements about who you believe was at fault. Also,
do not admit
blame to the other parties or witnesses. As soon as possible after
the accident, notify your
insurance company. If you sustained any personal injury, seek medical
Consult an attorney if you intend to file suit.
Q. If I collide with a parked car, am I required to do anything?
A. The law requires you to try to find the owner. Alternatively,
you are permitted to attach
a written note to the parked car identifying yourself and your vehicle.
You also should
notify the police.
Q. Must I tell the police if I am in an accident?
A. Alert the police immediately if someone is hurt or killed.
Generally, if the accident
involves a death, personal injury, or property damage above a specific
amount that varies
among states, you must notify the police and file a written accident report
within a short time span, usually five to ten days. Often, states require
you to file the
report with the bureau of motor vehicles or similar state authority. Some
states do not
require you to report an accident if no one is injured or if property
damage is less than a
certain dollar amount. Other jurisdictions require a report only if no
responded to the accident scene.
Q. What if I do not fill out an accident report?
A. Failure to file a written report is a misdemeanor in most
states. Some states may
suspend your driver's license until you file the report. Remember, by
accident report, you are verifying that the report contains a recital
of all important facts
known to you. Providing false information in a written report is illegal,
and typically is
punished by a fine.
Q. Should I contact an attorney after the accident? What should
I tell the lawyer?
A. If you are filing a lawsuit against the other driver, you
will hire your own lawyer. If the
other driver is suing you, your insurance company will provide a lawyer
for you. At the
initial client interview, supply information about:
• your family status and employment situation;
• the accident, including witnesses' names and addresses; and
• your injuries.
If you are filing suit, tell the lawyer about all your out-of-pocket expenses,
doctors' bills, ambulance and hospital costs, automobile repairs, rental
car costs, and any
Q. What might happen if I believe the collision is at least partly
A. You may not be in the best position to determine how the accident
equipment in your vehicle, a malfunctioning traffic signal, or the other
intoxication are among the many possible causes of the accident. Accepting
apologizing to the other driver may be used as evidence against you at
trial. Leave it to the
judge or jury to decide who is at fault.
Q. If the accident is partly my fault, may I still receive payment
for my injuries?
A. The answer depends on whether you live in a contributory negligence,
negligence, or no-fault jurisdiction. (See the discussion of no-fault
insurance in the
"Insurance" section )
Q. What is contributory negligence?
A. Essentially, contributory negligence bars you from recovering
money for your injuries
if your own negligence in any way contributed to the accident's occurrence.
driver must prove that you were negligent.
Q. What is the logic behind this legal doctrine?
A. The reasons behind contributory negligence range from punishing
you for your own
misconduct to discouraging you from acting negligently again. Only a few
accept the concept of contributory negligence, which once was widely supported.
Q. What does "comparative negligence" mean?
A. Adhered to in the vast majority of states, comparative negligence
divides the damages
among the drivers involved in an accident based on their degree of fault.
comparative negligence states, you can receive payment for your injuries
how much of the blame you carry for the accident, as long as the other
driver is at fault to
some degree. In "modified" comparative fault states, you may
recover payment only if
your own fault is below a certain threshold, such as 50 percent.
Q. How does comparative negligence work?
A. As an example, you are involved in an accident in which you
were driving ten miles
above the posted speed limit on an icy road. You believe, however, that
occurred because the other driver ran a red light.
In a comparative negligence state, it is up to the fact-finder, be it
judge or jury, after
hearing your case, to assign the degree of fault for each of you in terms
of a percentage.
Suppose the fact-finder decides that your speeding was responsible for
20 percent of your
injuries, and the other driver's going through the red light contributed
the remaining 80
percent. If the total amount of damages were $100,000, you would only