Lies & Bullis
DUTIES AND LIABILITIES OF MOTOR VEHICLE DRIVERS
 
Transportation Law:Private Motor Vehicles:Maintenance & Safety

A motor vehicle driver generally has a duty to exercise ordinary care in the operation of his or her motor vehicle so that he or she does not endanger the safety of other people who are using the highways. Ordinary care means the amount of care that a reasonable person would use under same or similar circumstances. If a reasonable person believes that his or her conduct would involve an unreasonable risk to other drivers or pedestrians, the person has a duty to exercise reasonable care towards the other drivers or pedestrians.

A motor vehicle driver may be liable for an accident involving another vehicle or a pedestrian if the driver fails to exercise ordinary care in the operation of his or her motor vehicle. The driver may also be liable for damages to real or personal property if his or her vehicle damages the real or personal property.

A motor vehicle driver has a duty to exercise reasonable care in the slowing or stopping of his or her vehicle. The driver cannot endanger other drivers or pedestrians as a result of the slowing or stopping of his or her vehicle. If the driver stops or slows his or her vehicle too quickly, if the driver fails to give proper signals, or if the driver stops his or her vehicle in an unsafe place, the driver may be liable for negligence.

A motor vehicle driver has a duty not to drive a vehicle with defective equipment. Most state transportation statutes require that vehicles be equipped with brakes and lights. If the driver knows that his or her vehicle has defective equipment, such as brakes and lights, the driver may be liable for negligence. However, the driver must know that his or her vehicle had defective equipment.

A motor vehicle driver has a duty not to drive his or her motor vehicle while intoxicated. In most states, driving while intoxicated is considered negligence per se or negligence as a matter of law. Even if there is no other evidence of negligence, the driver may be considered to be negligent based on his or her violation of a statute or based upon his or her driving while intoxicated.

A motor vehicle driver has a duty to secure cargo that is being transported in his or her motor vehicle so that it does not fall off the vehicle and cause injuries to other persons or other vehicles. A motor vehicle driver has a duty to maintain an adequate supply of fuel. If the driver fails to maintain an adequate supply of fuel, which failure causes the driver's vehicle to obstruct traffic, the driver may be liable for negligence.

If a motor vehicle driver violates a statute while driving his or her vehicle, the driver may be guilty of negligence per se or negligence as a matter of law. Examples of violations of statutes include excessive or inadequate speed, unsafe vehicle movement, a violation of a right-of-way, parking or stopping on a highway, and leaving the scene of an accident.

A motor vehicle driver is prohibited from driving at a speed that is not reasonable or prudent under the circumstances. Driving in excess of the posted speed limit is always considered to be unreasonable. However, the driver's speed must also be the proximate cause of an accident. Driving over the posted speed limit is not negligence per se unless it was the proximate cause of an accident. On the other hand, a driver's speed may be considered to be excessive even if he or she was not driving over the posted speed limit. The driver's speed is considered to be excessive if the visibility was poor, if the road was wet or slippery, or if children were observed on or near the road. If a driver's speed is inadequate or less than the posted speed limit, he or she may also be guilty of negligence providing the driver's inadequate speed was the proximate cause of an accident.

Unsafe vehicle movement with regard to motor vehicle drivers includes signaling, starting, turning, or backing a vehicle in an unsafe manner. It also includes driving on the wrong side of the road, changing lanes improperly, following another vehicle too closely, or improperly passing another vehicle.

A violation of a right-of-way occurs when a driver fails to yield the right-of-way to other vehicles, such as when the driver is entering an intersection with a stop sign or a traffic light or when the driver is entering or crossing a road or a highway. A violation of a right-of-way also includes a failure to yield to emergency vehicles.

Parking or stopping on a highway includes parking or stopping in prohibited places, such as the main portion of a highway; a failure to use warning lights or signals when parked or stopped on a highway; and leaving unattended vehicles on a highway. Parking or stopping on a highway also includes laws regarding approaching school buses and railroad crossings.

A motor vehicle driver has a duty to stop his or her vehicle at the scene of an accident in order to give information and to render aid. The driver has a duty to give his or her name and address, his or her vehicle registration information, and the name of his or her insurance company. The driver also has a duty to render reasonable aid to any person who is injured in the accident. Such reasonable aid may include taking the injured person to a hospital or calling for an ambulance.

Copyright 2005 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.