General Question

rebbel's avatar

A collision on a two-lane road, who is to blame? (Details inside. )

Asked by rebbel (26756points) June 30th, 2011

The two-lane road I talk about is one lane up and one lane down, if that makes sense.
I thought of this question while riding my bicycle, so it can be two bicycles colliding but cars are also okay.
One vehicle is driving towards the other, and on the wrong side of the road/wrong lane.
The other is driving on the right (as in correct) side/right lane but the person driving isn’t paying full attention for a second.
They collide.
Suppose there is damage on both bikes/cars, who will be considered at fault?
Who’s guilty morally, who legally?

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20 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Don’t even need Johnpennington for this one! The vehicle that crossed the dividing line is at fault! Next case!

tom_g's avatar

Legally? I believe here in Massachusetts, the person in the wrong lane is at fault.

Morally? Hang them both. Ok, so I’m not for the death penalty, but I have no tolerance for anyone using less than 100% attention when driving.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

It called “failure to maintain lane.” Wrong side of the line, wrong side of the law!

ninjacolin's avatar

I see why you asked.. the idea being.. “Yea, I’m in the wrong lane but you shouldn’t hit me anyway.”

SpatzieLover's avatar

Where I live, I think both drivers would be cited…however, the fault (considering there’d be a lawsuit) would be with the wrong way driver.

ninjacolin's avatar

It’s like, if there was a stalled car in the lane ahead of you, you have to be careful to avoid it. You can’t just run into it and say: “Hey, this stalled car shouldn’t be here, now look what happened!”

Allie's avatar

I’m pretty sure it’s solely the fault of the person who crossed the line. The other person may not have been paying full attention, but he wasn’t across is the oncoming traffic lane.

WasCy's avatar

No one here (in the situation you describe) is completely blameless. Even though one driver may have been in the wrong lane – for whatever reason – the failure of the other driver to even be aware of the problem in front of him somewhat mitigates the other’s responsibility.

If the driver in the correct lane did notice the impending (or likely) collision and did what he could to avoid it, including stopping, running off the road or even (not recommended) taking the “wrong” lane to avoid the collision, then he’d be “blameless”. But if he doesn’t even notice, or notices but takes no action to avoid the problem, then he shares in culpability.

bkcunningham's avatar

I concur with @Cruiser. Next case.

marinelife's avatar

The person riding on the wrong side of the road is at fault.

perspicacious's avatar

Rebel, I hope that you are not a driver.

The person driving on the wrong side of the road is responsible for the accident. The last clear chance doctrine would not apply.

rebbel's avatar

Thank you all!
@perspicacious I am a driver, both on bicycle and in car.
Without causing accidents generally.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Please don’t practice having accidents. ~ ~

dabbler's avatar

@perspicacious “last clear chance doctrine” superb point. Is that a regular phrase used in court? It’s oozing with specific meaning. (I like a phrase like that.)

Are there circumstances in which the “last clear chance doctrine” is applicable?
In this case would the fact the center line was violated overwhelm even considering the “last clear chance doctrine” ?

WasCy's avatar

We get back to “context” (and the reason that we have courts and juries… and attorneys).

There was no context or setup given to the example. The driver on the wrong side of the road may have been incapacitated or the vehicle may have been partly disabled due to a mechanical problem. The driver may have been driving at a very slow speed while looking for a house number, and inattentive to his position on the road. He may have been trying to avoid a worse accident himself, such as when a child runs into traffic and he swerves to avoid striking the child, there being no time to apply the brakes and stop. That’s “context”.

If the driver in the correct lane did nothing at all to avert the accident in this case, then both will share some of the blame or fault for the collision. (A police investigation, if undertaken, would probably determine that one driver was driving “too fast for conditions”, which may even be lower than the posted or implied speed limit. Both drivers could be cited, in fact.)

“Last clear chance” is a nice legal phrase to know, but if you were the driver on the correct side of the road and were not attentive to the blockage in your own lane, and therefore did nothing to avert the accident, then you’d be at least partially to blame. In that case, you would have had a “last clear chance” to take some evasive action (or at least slow your own vehicle to mitigate the damage of a speed + speed head-on collision.

If the offending driver is simply driving willfully (or drunkenly, or asleep, or in some other careless or reckless manner) in the wrong lane and collides with a driver who does try to avert, avoid or escape the collision, then he could be found to be completely at fault.

bkcunningham's avatar

When I drive, my eyes go in a pattern of looking at my mirrors, speedometer, ahead. Rearview mirror, right side mirror, left side mirror, ahead speedometer, ahead. Rearview mirror, right side mirror, left side mirror, someone coming toward me headon.

I’m doing the speed limit, I can’t swerve to the right because there is a deep ditch and I can’t go to the left out of fear someone is topping the curve in the oncoming lane. I’m not at fault when I get hit headon by this vehicle. He may not be negligent for whatever reason; heart attack, faulty Toyota, whatever. But I’m definitely not at fault @WasCy.

WasCy's avatar

Never thought you would be, @bkcunningham. But the scenario given was of a driver in the “good” lane who was himself / herself “momentarily” inattentive.

roundsquare's avatar

@dabbler Last clear chance is an old (but still existing) doctrine of law. Basically, back when the courts weren’t willing to “split” the fault by percentages, they needed a way to determine who was at fault. If someone had the “last clear chance” to stop the accident but didn’t, they were at fault. Nowadays, in some jurisdictions anyway, there is “comparative fault” which assigns blame by percentage so the doctrine isn’t very useful.

I don’t think its relevant here though (at least on my reading of the situation). But, what we really need is a lot more details. Road conditions. How flat is the road. How long was he on the wrong side for? All sorts of stuff…. as we get more details we may think of more questions to ask.

The devil is in the details.

perspicacious's avatar

@roundsquare @dabbler The Last Clear Chance doctrine is still in use in the few states where the defense to Negligence is Contributory rather than Comparative negligence. Roundsquare doesn’t have it exactly right, but you can research it if really interested. The doctrine is alive and well in my home state, Alabama. In Contributory Negligence states the doctrine is always relevant if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff actually had a viable last chance to keep the accident from happening.

dabbler's avatar

Thanks for the superb primer on the topic, @perspicacious !

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