Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

Internet tough guy — somebody who boasts online of dire consequences, usually violent, for anybody who crosses him, but is probably an obese video game addict living in his mother’s basement in real life

If you’ve talked driving on the ‘net you have probably met an internet tough guy. He threatens to slam on the brakes if anybody tailgates him. You will go to jail and he will get all your stuff. You will be at fault. Can you live with being AT FAULT?

One of these guys got me thinking about what it means to be at fault. Said right it sounds scary, like the principal warning your behavior would go on your PERMANENT RECORD.

So you slam on your brakes and *crunch* our cars exchange paint.

Am I at fault? Should I care if I am? What do you win?

Fault has three meanings: moral, financial, and criminal.

Should I feel guilty?

Most of us don’t want to be in an accident. Should I feel guilty if my front bumper collides with somebody’s rear bumper? I don’t have to. Moral fault is self-imposed.

I have been rear ended three times as driver or passenger. The guy behind us wasn’t paying close attention to traffic ahead. The front driver was calm, the rear driver apologized, and we continued on our way.

I saw a car stop abruptly when a light turned yellow. Too abruptly? I don’t know. Either way, a truck ran into it. The truck driver got out and started yelling. He didn’t act guilty.

If you slam on the brakes, the driver behind you has no obligation to feel bad about the subsequent collision.

Will I have to pay?

Another meaning of fault is financial responsibility.

This is less important than moral responsibility. As Joe Walsh says, I have accountants pay for it all.

My insurance takes care of property damage and injuries short of death or long term care. You are not going to bankrupt me by slamming on your brakes. You are not going to enrich yourself either. Punitive damages are rare in traffic cases, and a routine rear-ender won’t get you any.

You can also stop screaming “whiplash!” In my state you can’t sue if your medical costs are under $8,000. Your own “no fault” insurance pays, and the company flags your unverifiable soft tissue injury as possible fraud.

My insurance rate might go up by 20%. I can afford that. I’d rather not, but to me financial fault is the least important of the three kinds.

Will I be punished?

Finally, being at fault could be a criminal conviction. I don’t count ordinary tickets, which are minor financial inconveniences. Going to jail would be bad. Being on supervised probation would be bad. Long term loss of license would be bad.

While a few states have policies of filing serious criminal charges after minor rear-end collisions, mine does not.

Police want the road cleared. If they have to work to clear the scene, they might write a ticket. If somebody leaves in an ambulance, they might write a ticket. If everybody drives or walks away you can file a report later.

You can’t put me in jail by slamming on the brakes.

OK, I admit, if you die there is a real risk of criminal charges. Do you feel lucky?

Go ahead, make my day

An accident is a hassle for both parties no matter who is “at fault.” There is paperwork to fill out. You need to change your schedule, arrange repairs, get a replacement vehicle, get your toll transponder switched over to the new vehicle, and so forth. That is time you can’t spend enjoying life. If you have a decent job this is worth hundreds dollars of your time.

Who is going to go through that to raise some stranger’s insurance rates?

Who is going to risk prison to get back at an annoying driver?

Trying to cause a collision is reckless driving and assault. It’s still a crime if you get rear-ended. A widely publicized case involved an LA doctor who brake checked two bicyclists. He got five years in prison. There was a similar case in Vermont. Massachusetts authorities had enough of fake “accidents” and started pressing charges.

If you truly want our cars to collide, you can make it happen. Swerve across the centerline at the last moment. Nothing I can do. Some people commit suicide that way. I don’t waste time worrying about suicidal drivers.

I don’t believe you’re going to follow through on your threats. You probably don’t believe I would put you out of your misery when you are screaming in pain after I hit you from behind. Because I wouldn’t rub out the only witness who could contradict my story. Would I?

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