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  1. #1
    dreading court Guest

    following too closely/no-damage rear-ender

    Location: Georgia

    Earlier this year, my wife rear-ended another car on the interstate in the Atlanta metro region. This was a VERY low-speed impact --traffic was slow and she gave the other car what she thought was a reasonable distance. The damage to our car amounted to about 6 square inches of scuffs to the paint on the front bumper. The other car appeared to be unharmed except for some of our paint on its rear bumper. The other car was a state car driven by a state employee, and he was obligated to call the highway patrol. When the patrolman showed up, he wrote it up as an accident (my wife at-fault) and also cited her for following too closely.

    GA state law defines an accident as "the collision of any motor vehicle with another vehicle ...in which any person is killed or injured or in which damage to the property of any one person to an extent of $500.00 or more is sustained"

    We are CERTAIN that our car did not sustain such damage, and pretty sure the state car did not either. The accident report lists no injuries, and lists damage to both cars as "slight" (the next category up from "none"). It's been three months and no claims have been filed on our insurance.

    The question is, would we stand a chance in court if we argue that this should not have been reported/filed as an accident, and if no accident occurred, that my wife was not following too closely? After all, she was giving enough distance so that an accident would not occur, and if my understanding of the definition is correct, none did.


    Other possible mitigating factors:
    --She was two weeks into a new job (70 miles away from our house--she had to get an apartment mid-way for the weekdays), stressed-out, and very new to Atlanta traffic.

    --She has never been cited for ANY violation before (she's 24) and never at-fault in an accident.

    --She has been diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD. She took meds for anxiety at the time, but had not been diagnosed with ADHD yet.


    This seems like a reasonable defense to us, but we are very afraid that if the court views it as a waste of the county's time for some reason we're overlooking, they will "throw the book at her."

    She has pleaded "not guilty," and then we got a continuance so that we could consult a lawyer and build our case (it was a tough semester for me and I couldn't do it, and she was buried in work). Problem is, since the other driver could not come to the next available date, the recorder's court clerk decided to schedule us in State court (jury trial and talk of public defenders-- big uh-oh). This thing just keeps escalating, and over what seems to be a trivial incident (no damage, no injuries).

    If it really is a silly defense, we'll take our lumps and deal with it-- I just hope we haven't made things much worse by initially trying to contest the ticket. If she is found guilty or pleads guilty now, can the fine or court costs get worse? If we do chicken out, is there still a way to not go in front of a jury/waste court's time/get book thrown at?

    Thanks in advance
  2. #2
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    Being cited for following too closely has nothing to really do with the definition of an "accident". You can be guilty of that offense even without a collision.

    In general, most traffic collisions are the result of one of two things: following too closely or traveling at an unsafe speed. Damage is not necessarily required.

    Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  3. #3
    lwpat is offline Senior Member
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    Your real problem is with the insurance. Some carriers will not quote anyone with two at fault accidents in three years. You might consider talking with the DMV to see if there is any way to keep this from being listed on her MVR.

    You can chose to pay the ticket at any time prior to trial.

    You might want to consider talking to the prosecuter and offering to plead guilty to speeding under 14mph. My understanding is that Georgia does not enter these on your record but you should verify.
  4. #4
    dreading court Guest
    Hi Carl and lwpat,
    Thanks for your responses.

    Carl, I've considered that counter-argument, and the response I'm thinking of goes as follows (kind of long, and an admittedly strict reading of the law):

    GA code 40-6-49 (under which she was cited) says "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."

    When an officer cites someone following at a distance he deems too close (with no collision, just the officer's observation), he's judging whether they're being reasonable and prudent. If the officer is responding to an accident, the accident is the proof that the driver was not reasonable and prudent. But what if the officer is responding to something less than an accident, as legally defined?

    The law seems vague about what's reasonable and prudent (possibly in order to give discretion to officers and judges?). So the crux of our argument would be the definition of "reasonable and prudent" (R&P from here on). The R&P distance as we would define it equals the distance necessary to prevent an accident. If we can show (photos, estimates, etc.) that the "bump" doesn't meet the definition of an accident, the R&P distance as the officer would seem to have to define it equals the distance necessary to avoid any contact at all.

    If we get a judge or jury who agrees with our definition, we'd come out pretty well. Since the defintion is left vague, it does seem to be an arguable point, at least.

    lwpat,
    Thanks for the advice. Yes, you are right, we do believe the real problem is the accident report itself. The whole thing (ticket and court costs, increased premium from at-fault AND ticket) seems really severe for what happened, especially given her spotless record so far. I will talk to DMV as soon as I can. Would it help to get supporting documents about the damage before talking to them?
    If we decide defending the ticket just won't work, we'll see if we can get the deal they first offered: no points, plus $150 fine and costs. If there are no points assessed, it shouldn't affect the insurance, right?

    Thanks y'all,
    --Jason
  5. #5
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    Well, all I can add is that in CA the fact that you made impact at all would generally be a prima facie case for following too closely. Since following too closely is an infraction not requiring a collision, all the collision does is provide proof of the offense - it is not an element of the offense itself. And I imagine you will find the law works in a similar manner in GA.

    The argument against your contention (in addition to the moot issue of the collision since it is not an element of the offense) will be that had you been following at a safe and prudent distance, you would have had ample time and ability to move out of the way of the braking vehicle in front of you. Since you were unable to, it would thus follow that you were not sufficiently behind the vehicle.

    Good luck, but unless they mor eor less acquiesce, I doubt you will prevail on that argument. But, GA is not CA, so who knows.

    Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  6. #6
    dreading court Guest

    Question

    Carl,
    You know, I'd bet this has been hashed out in court before. I'd like to look for other cases that set the precedent for what counts as evidence of following too close. You say in California it just needs to be a collision-- and I HOPE that in Georgia it has to be an accident. I'll look it up and see, and post what I find. Any suggestions on how to look this up, anyone?
    --Jason
  7. #7
    harbor14 is offline Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by dreading court
    Carl,
    You know, I'd bet this has been hashed out in court before. I'd like to look for other cases that set the precedent for what counts as evidence of following too close. You say in California it just needs to be a collision-- and I HOPE that in Georgia it has to be an accident. I'll look it up and see, and post what I find. Any suggestions on how to look this up, anyone?
    --Jason
    What you are looking at is the definition for the requirment to file an accident report. The $500/injury threshold is a legal requirment for an accident report to be filled, not whether a collision occured or not. The following too close infraction has nothing to do with the requirment to file an accident report.

    Had an officer not shown up, there would be no legal requirement to file a report as it did not meet the threshold for a reportable accident.

    As to the rest of it. Striking a vehicle from behind is generally evidence on the face of it that a) you were following to close or b)you failed to maintain control of your vehicle as required by basic speed rules.
  8. #8
    lwpat is offline Senior Member
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    Insurance points and driver's license points are different. If the violation appears on your record the insurance company will use it in setting your rate.
  9. #9
    dreading court Guest
    lwpat,
    Re: the points: That's what I was afraid of. Hopefully we can reach an agreement with the officer to plead guilty to a lesser charge that won't go on her record, as you suggest, or get it reduced in court.


    Thanks for your reply, Harbor14,

    I have been looking around at the schedule of fines for traffic offenses, and most counties in GA that post it on the web have seperate fines for "following too closely" ($90-100) and "following too closely with accident" ($120-150). Do you think it could have some bearing on how we handle this? I'm still trying to find out if the county in question does this or not-- it's not on the web, and the recorder's court clerk's office was very unhelpful.

    I have access to LexixNexis through my university, and all of the "following too close(ly)" cases from GA that I've read so far (about 120) involve either a legally defined accident (injuries or damage or death), or were cases in which the officer observed someone following too closely.

    I guess what's so tempting to me about this defense is that I can't find an instance of mere contact being used as evidence of "following too close." Either an officer sees you, or there's an accident as the state code defines it. This just seems to be in more of a gray area than if an outright accident had happened. If I find in custom or case law precedent where someone has been convicted when the evidence is just a collision with no injuries or damage, then I'd heartily agree we would be toast in court and we wouldn't even try to contest it.
    Thanks y'all,

    --Jason
  10. #10
    nkpatel33 Guest

    Similar situation

    location: Georgia

    Hey. I am in a similar situation as your wife. I was at a stop light in Cobb County (GA) and I sneezed pretty harshly. My foot came off the pedal and I barely rear ended the lady in front of me. She insisted on calling the cops in case she suffered any injuries the next day (so she could make a claim if necessary), even though there was no visible damage to her car. So I also received a "following too closely" citation. The officer said if the lady didn't call in with a complaint that I could get the charge waived, but I am starting to doubt that it will be easy. The cop did say she wouldn't fight me on any of it if the lady didn't call in. She said she had to give me the ticket to cover herself in case the lady did file a complaint (which she didn't do at all). Jason, did you end up pleading not guilty in court and what was the result? Please let me know if anyone has any advice/suggestions on how to handle this. Thanks.

    Nirav

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