We’ve all been there – driving along the highway when you see a car or truck stopped on the shoulder. It’s so common that usually we breeze by without giving the scene a second thought. But stopped vehicles can pose a major risk to other drivers, whether it’s a double-parked car in a residential neighborhood or a breakdown on the side of a four-lane freeway.
One of the most critical steps any driver should take after a collision or breakdown is to move themselves and their vehicle to a safe spot away from traffic if they’re able.
Pulled-over vehicles should also be made visible to other drivers – for example, by turning on their hazard lights, especially at night. Commercial and oversized vehicles like trucks and tractor-trailers must be particularly careful about this because of their size. They may require taking extra steps like putting out flares or reflective cones on the road.
Rear-ending a stopped car or truck can be catastrophic for unsuspecting drivers who don’t see the vehicle until it’s too late to stop. Most people assume that rear-ending someone makes you automatically at fault in a car accident, but that’s not always true. We recently won a $10 million settlement for a client in Stockton who rear-ended a stopped truck without its hazards on.
What Happens if a Car or Truck Breaks Down on the Road?
Whether you’re involved in a crash, you get a flat tire, or your car breaks down, your first concern should be your safety and the safety of others around you. That means:
- Moving your vehicle out of the way of traffic if possible
- Staying out of traffic and avoiding walking into traffic lanes
- Turning on your vehicle’s warning or hazard lights
- Putting up reflective cones or flares
Unfortunately, not all drivers take these precautions. While a stopped car may be more visible on a sunny, clear day, it can be impossible to see in bad weather or at night.
The Importance of Warning or Hazard Lights
Turning on your hazard or warning lights is not just courteous – it can save lives. If you have to stop your car somewhere you’re not ordinarily supposed to stop, it’s critical that you alert other drivers to your presence far enough out that they have a chance to adjust. Blinking hazard lights help alert drivers that they should proceed with caution as they reach you.
Large trucks and other commercial tractor-trailors may need to do more than just turn on their hazards. Depending on the situation – for example, if the truck driver has to move around the truck to fix a mechanical issue – they may need to put out reflective triangles or flares to get enough visibility, especially on dark roads at night or in low-visibility weather.
If your vehicle experiences a breakdown, the first step is to turn on your hazard lights immediately. This simple action can make a significant difference in preventing a potential collision and will help other drivers gauge the situation ahead.
What Happens if You Rear-End a Stopped Vehicle?
Rear-ending has stopped vehicle is one of the most common types of accidents that happen on highways, with severe consequences for both parties involved.
In California, establishing fault is one of the most important parts of a successful car accident claim. Like most people, you may assume that fault lies entirely with the person who rear-ends the stopped vehicle. While some rear-end collisions are straightforward like this, there are certain cases where the responsibility may not rest entirely on the following driver – for example, when the stopped driver fails to turn on their hazard lights or put out reflective cones.
It’s unreasonable to expect another driver to see and avoid a stopped vehicle without proper visibility markers. If a driver fails to turn on their hazards, they fail to take proper precautions to protect themselves and others. So even if you’re the one who rear-ended a stopped vehicle, the other driver may be at fault because they didn’t take the necessary steps for safety.
At this point, it’s critical to get legal advice from a professional who can help you put responsibility where it belongs. In a recent case, a truck driver who stopped on the side of the road tried to blame our client for rear-ending the vehicle. We were able to prove that the truck driver did not have their hazards on, so they were the ones actually at fault.
Other Stopped Vehicle Hazards
Rear-end collisions aren’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to stopped vehicles.
- Double-parked cars can back up traffic, creating bottlenecks that can cause abrupt lane changes, sudden braking, and a higher risk of collisions
- Cars stopped near driveways could block the field of view for merging or turning drivers
- If the driver of the stopped vehicle is outside of their car attending to their breakdown, they may inadvertently step into the path of oncoming traffic – putting themselves at great risk and surprising approaching drivers into unexpected maneuvers
Just because you may have rear-ended or collided with a stopped vehicle doesn’t mean that you’re automatically at fault. It’s entirely possible that the circumstances created by the stopped vehicle made it impossible for you to avoid the collision. In that case, the person responsible for the stopped car is the one legally responsible for the consequences.
In some cases, you may both partly share the fault for the collision. For example, a stopped truck driver failed to turn on their hazard lights but you also may have been speeding.
It’s important to stay vigilant, keep a safe following distance, and exercise caution when passing stopped or broken-down vehicles. But sometimes the person who’s stopped hasn’t taken the proper precautions themselves, putting others at risk. In these situations, the crash may have been beyond your control – and not your fault. An experienced California car accident lawyer can help you prove your claims and get the compensation you deserve.
At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help. Contact us now for your free case consultation.