Rear-end collision – Why you might not be at-fault

Ashley Tulley

Chief Commercial Officer, MCW Legal

Drivers who slam the brakes on in front of me, for no apparent reason, drive me mad. If they drive you mad too you will be pleased to know that they can be held liable for careless driving.  And that means you might not be at fault for a rear-end collision.

There is a well-known presumption that rear-end car accidents are typically the fault of the driver who hit the car in front.

But there are certain situations where that is not always the case.

Read on to discover why, and under what circumstances, a driver who rear-ends another car may not always be at fault.

Tailgating is still illegal...

The driver of the car that rear-ends a leading vehicle will almost always be considered at least partially negligent. This is often loosely referred to as presumed liability.

Tailgating is illegal and an example where a rear driver would be found at-fault for the collision. 

Every driver has a responsibility to follow the car in front at a safe distance. Tailgating is illegal after all.

This is because drivers sometimes have to suddenly, and unexpectedly, slow down or come to stop.

You are expected to have enough distance between you and the car in front of you to prevent a collision if such an unanticipated stop becomes necessary.

However, there are certain situations where you could have been the perfect driver and would have still found yourself involved in a rear-end collision.

Not a dangerous driver and involved in a rear-end collision

If you rear-ended another driver – and you weren’t driving dangerously – you may not be at fault.

In some situations, the lead vehicle is actually responsible for the accident.

Examples of negligent driving for lead drivers include:

  • Slamming on brakes suddenly and unexpectedly (whether to harass or annoy other drivers)
  • Aggressive driving
  • Failure to indicate a turn or lane change
  • Driving too slowly
  • Dangerous driving (such as driving carelessly in bad weather conditions)
  • Dangerously merging in front of you, then braking suddenly.
  • Failure to pull over and engage hazard lights when broken down or after getting a flat tyre.

In each of these examples, the driver of the car that gets rear-ended would likely be considered negligent.

If you were involved in an accident that was:

  • caused by a leading driver; and
  • you suffered injuries as a result of the accident... may also be entitled to compensation for your injuries, property damage and other losses. 

But all of this is irrelevant if you can't prove what happened

We can all agree that in rear-end collision the tailing driver is typically at fault.

Hence, it’s no surprise that insurers and police assume the same thing.

The insurer will pore over every minute detail of your rear-end collision to see if the accident was avoidable, making you responsible for the accident.

It therefore becomes increasingly important to provide definitive evidence that this was not the case.

How to prove it

What is negligence?

Click to reveal it's definition


To prove that the other driver was negligent, you must first prove that a duty of care existed.

Determining this is pretty simple, since all drivers owe one another a duty to exercise care when operating a car.

Second, you must prove the other driver breached their duty.

Drivers can breach their duty of reasonable care in a number of ways. For example, by:

  • check
    failing to pay attention to the road and look out for hazards
  • check
    failing to drive at a reasonable speed (based not just on posted speed limits but also on road conditions)
  • check
    failing to maintain control of the vehicle
  • check
    failing to indicate, and
  • check
    failing to follow at a safe distance.

These are the same scenarios discussed earlier. 

Third, you must prove the other driver’s breach of duty was the cause of the accident.

Here is where a dash cam steps in...

One such way you can prove the accident was not your fault, and the lead driver breached their duty of care, is through video footage.

Video footage is a great way to prove that you weren't at fault in a rear-end collision. 

Videos, like photos, are difficult to contradict.

They are an unbiased and impartial piece of evidence. An insurer will find it very difficult to deny the evidence in a video.

Likewise, dash cam footage avoids the he-said, she-said spiral between people involved in an accident. It would be pretty hard for someone to deny they failed to indicate or their brake lights were broken when it's shown on camera.