Answer Man

Stay far, far away if you want to avoid rear-end collisions

The trailing driver is usually at fault in rear-end collisions.
The trailing driver is usually at fault in rear-end collisions.

Q: Let’s say you’re driving down the highway and some joker cuts you off and slams on the brakes so you have no option but to hit him. Who gets the ticket? How will the insurance companies handle it? Who needs to hire a cheap lawyer?

L.W., of Waterloo

A: Your question is a perfect example of why some people think dash cameras should be mandatory in all vehicles because without definitive proof, assessing blame in many rear-end collisions can be notoriously difficult..

As you are obviously aware, the vast majority of such crashes are the fault of the trailing driver because he or she has broken what’s known as the assured clear distance ahead (ACDA) rule. It requires that drivers keep an “assured clear distance” between them and the car ahead of them to allow sufficient reaction and braking time in an emergency to avoid just such an accident. This distance, of course, can change based on speed and road conditions. I’m sure, for example, you’ve heard the rule of thumb suggesting you add a car length of distance for every 10 mph of speed. My own experience is that few follow this rule, which is likely why the trailing driver usually is hit with the ticket.

But there are at least three instances in which the lead driver can be at fault, according to NOLO, an online legal self-help website begun as a publishing house by two lawyers in 1971.

Let’s say a driver unexpectedly turns right out of an intersection onto a street where you have the right-of-way. Or, as in your scenario, a slower driver suddenly merges into your lane. In both cases, you could not reasonably be expected to have observed the ACDA rule, provided, of course, that you were obeying all applicable traffic laws at the time. These are the most common situations in which a lead driver could be ticketed. It’s your job, of course, to make sure you convince police that it was indeed solely the other driver’s fault. Without such proof on, say, an accident report that you can submit to your insurance company, you might still be held partially or wholly liable for damages, because unless the other driver is totally truthful, he or she may say you were at least partially to blame, according to NOLO.

As an offshoot of this scenario, criminals have begun victimizing unsuspecting drivers with what some call the “swoop and squat” con. Working in tandem, one car pulls up on your side while another veers in front and brakes. Since you’re blocked on the side, you have little recourse but to smash into the car that has suddenly slowed. Knowing that the trailing driver is generally blamed, the crook files for an insurance jackpot, probably faking chronic injuries as well. Your claim that the accident was a setup can be difficult to prove.

“Courts can be leery of these claims,” NOLO warns. “You need to be able to show a connection between the driver that you struck and the one who boxed you in. After that, it could still be a question of comparative fault when the ACDA rule is factored in. In other words, even if the person in front of you intended to cause the accident by slowing down, did you still have the time between the driver’s entry in your lane and the accident to slow down enough to maintain that clear distance?”

Finally, there is the “surprisingly common” situation in which the leading driver, waiting at a red light, has accidentally shifted into reverse or had to crawl back from the intersection when the light turned red and forgot to shift back into drive. When the light turns green, that driver accelerates and promptly rams the car in back, earning himself or herself a ticket and you a date with the body shop. However, you do have to make sure the other driver does not try to shift blame when the police arrive.

See where that dash cam might come in handy? In any case, you very well may need an indisputable accident report, a sympathetic insurance company and a lawyer — and not a “cheap” one — in these cases.

Q: While looking at a U.S. road map the other day, it struck me as odd that there is an Interstate 10, I-20 and so on up to I-90, but there’s no I-50. Why?

L.E., of Lenzburg

A: If you’ve never studied it before, the interstate highway system has an ingenious numbering plan. It’s the same one they used to number the older U.S. highways — but a mirror image. So, while U.S. 1 is on the East Coast, I-5 is on the West Coast. Moreover, interstates with odd numbers generally run north-south and those with higher odd numbers are increasingly farther east — I-95, for example, runs down the East Coast while U.S. 95 runs from Idaho to Arizona.

On the other hand, even-numbered interstates run east-west and increase in number from south to north, so I-10 runs from the Pacific Ocean to Jacksonville, Fla., while I-90 runs from Boston to Seattle. (U.S. 90 runs from Jacksonville Beach, Fla., to Van Horn, Texas.)

So why is there no I-50? When formulating the numbering system, planners suggested that no state should have a U.S. highway and interstate with the same number. The idea was to avoid confusion if someone was told to take, say, Route 20. As it turns out, I-50 would have to be built in the middle of the country, the same area where U.S. 50 runs from Ocean City, Md., to West Sacramento, Calif — including the metro-east. Since some states likely would wind up having both, 50 has yet to be used for an interstate route.

Before anyone points out that there is an I-74 and U.S. 74 in North Carolina, let me point out that the two are actually one and the same at some points and, thus, officials thought they were less subject to be confused, I suppose.

Today’s trivia

When asked to donate $10 for a sportswriter’s funeral, what famous coach reportedly said, “Here’s a 20. Bury two.”?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: The character Opie Taylor made his debut on the Feb. 15, 1960, episode of Danny Thomas’ “Make Room for Daddy.” Producers wanted to test audience reaction to a possible series starring Andy Griffith as a small-town Southern sheriff, so they had Danny Williams (Thomas) arrested when he failed to stop at a stop sign in Mayberry (even though there was no intersection). In the process, audiences were introduced to Griffith, Frances Bavier — and 5-year-old Ronny Howard, who already had appeared in a half-dozen TV episodes, including “The Twilight Zone” (“Walking Distance”). The episode must have been a hit. “The Andy Griffith Show” debuted eight months later.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer