“It Was an Accident!”
Have you ever wondered if you have something in common with Beyoncé? Wonder no more! Queen B once exclaimed, “It was an accident” in Carmen: A Hip Hopera and if you drive or have driven in the State of Florida, you probably have too. Unfortunately, accidents are very common in the State of Florida. Whether it is a “fender bender” or a collision of Fast and Furious fame, accidents and the tickets that come with them are no laughing matter.
People are often disoriented and confused after an accident. There is the shock of the incident occurring in the first place, the blame game between parties, and the bidding war to see who can convince the officer of their version of the story. This can easily overwhelm anyone. A client once asked, “I was involved in a car accident and received a citation. How can the officer issue a ticket for something that he didn’t observe?” The important thing is to understand that the officer can only prove his case in court through the testimony of witnesses who may have witnessed the accident. Police officers arrive after an accident has occurred and therefore are not viable witnesses. They cannot testify against you in court. They must rely on the testimony of someone who was involved or saw the accident occurring firsthand.
This is called “accident report privilege” which means that anything said at the scene of the accident is immaterial. You can quit playing favorites with the police officer at the scene because it isn’t winning you any favors. Regardless of what may have been said at the scene of the accident, a Judge will only consider the live in-court testimony in rendering his/her decision. If there are no witnesses against you at trial, your case will be dismissed. In fact, if all the witnesses appear but the officer doesn’t, then your case will be dismissed at trial as well. Another common question is, “I was involved in an accident and although a deputy arrived on the scene first, a long period of time passed until the Florida Highway Patrol trooper who issued the ticket appeared on the scene. Why did it happen that way?” Great question. If the first officer didn’t witness the incident, how could they possibly relay any credible information to a second officer? How can that second officer determine culpability? The scene of an accident is no place to play telephone!
The Florida Highway Patrol is just that, a highway patrol agency whose sole purpose is to enforce the traffic laws in the State of Florida and to investigate traffic crashes in the unincorporated areas of the State. So when there are many accidents in various areas of the State, a deputy sheriff will arrive on the scene first and call for a trooper to investigate the crash. The State Trooper will issue any citations for any violations that they believe was committed. Below, I’ve listed some of the most common tickets issued during the accident:
What the Florida Legislature says: “Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Failure to drive in such manner shall constitute careless driving and a violation of this section.”
What It Actually Means: This is sometimes considered the ‘fit all’ box when it comes to accidents. This statue is broad enough that it can incorporate almost any accident within its scope. It basically says that you were driving in a careless manor and therefore endangered and caused damage to someone and/or their property (i.e.: their car).
What the Florida Legislature says: “The fact that the speed of a vehicle is lower than the prescribed limits shall not relieve the driver from the duty to decrease speed when approaching and crossing an intersection, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, or when special hazards exist or may exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or other roadway conditions, and speed shall be decreased as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other conveyance on or entering the street in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.”
What It Actually Means: Even if you’re not speeding, it’s your responsibility to slow down when you encounter a ‘special hazard’ such as a curve, an intersection, a hill crest, a narrow or winding roadway, rain, snow, rainbows, unicorns – does your head hurt yet? The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) teaches us to drive defensively and if an officer believes you are not driving defensively or carefully, this is the statue that enables him to persecute and penalize you.
Following Too Closely
What the Florida Legislature 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.
What It Actually Means: Laws that are vague and open for interpretation can be easily and unintentionally broken. Clearly your car should not be getting acquainted with another’s car bumper, but can anyone quantify “reasonable” or “prudent”? Just how far away should your car be? Florida legislature specifies that motor trucks, towing vehicles, and trailers can’t follow within 300 feet of another motor truck on a roadway outside of a business or residence district. But what about your Honda Civic?
Technically, if a car suddenly brakes for whatever reason, your vehicle should be far away enough that you can also brake and avoid a collision. However, there are multiple scenarios in which a vehicle might brake too suddenly for you to break in time. What if the car in front you collides with the car in front of it and you encounter the domino effect? The last car will always receive a ticket, regardless of how the incident occurred.
Improper Change of Lane
What the Florida Legislature says: No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless authorized by the provisions of this chapter and unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction of any vehicle overtaken. In every event the overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within 200 feet of any approaching vehicle.
What It Actually Means: Don’t change lanes unless you’re at least 200 feet away from any approaching vehicle. Don’t try to squeeze in, don’t ‘hope’ you can make it.
Leaving the Scene
What the Florida Legislature says: The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or other property which is driven or attended by any person shall give his or her name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving, and shall upon request and if available exhibit his or her license or permit to drive, to any person injured in such crash or to the driver or occupant of or person attending any vehicle or other property damaged in the crash and shall give such information and, upon request, exhibit such license or permit to any police officer at the scene of the crash or who is investigating the crash and shall render to any person injured in the crash reasonable assistance, including the carrying, or the making of arrangements for the carrying, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if such carrying is requested by the injured person.
What It Actually Means: Make sure you exchange your information (insurance company details, name, address, your car’s registration number, contact number, and driver’s license number) with any and all parties involved in an accident. Take pictures of the license plates if the other parties aren’t cooperative. Call the police so an officer can be dispatched to the scene and fill out an official report. DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE. Unless you’re directly obstructing traffic, DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE.
Unfortunately, sometimes the other party will tell you to follow them so you can exchange information and drive off only to call an officer and inform them that you drove off. Leaving the Scene is considered a Misdemeanor, and no one wants to be charged with a criminal violation especially over a misunderstanding or a lie.
Regardless of the circumstances, the best thing to do once issued a traffic ticket as a result of an accident is to fight it. As a traffic ticket lawyer with over 18 years of experience, I’ve gotten thousands of accident tickets dismissed. You’re already paying enough for your insurance, why give them a free pass to raise your rates? Call (954) 967-9888 for a free consultation.