By Maya Kushner, Esq. and Marc Emden, Esq.
When a traffic accident occurs, the question becomes: who is at fault. In this article, Emdenlaw discusses three of Maryland’s traffic laws that are frequently implicated in car accidents.
Maryland’s Traffic Laws: Boulevard Rule
The Boulevard Rule is a legal doctrine that was created to expedite the flow of traffic: it gives traffic on a main thoroughfare the inflexible right of way to traffic on streets adjoining the thoroughfare. Simply put: this rule declares that all traffic driving on the highway or main street has a “permanent right of way” to all other traffic. This means that any car entering the highway (unfavored driver), which strikes a car already on the highway (favored driver), is negligent as a matter of law.
The exact definitions of favored and unfavored drivers have evolved over several court cases, but they follow common sense. When entering a highway, the drivers on the on-ramp are unfavored, while the ones already on the highway are favored; drivers facing a stop sign are unfavored; drivers entering a paved roadway from an unpaved roadway are unfavored; etc.
There are a few exceptions to the rule, and a few situations where it does not apply. For example, the rule does not apply when there are no traffic signs or signals controlling the intersection, and both streets are of equal character, or a traffic signal is present but is somehow defective (maybe it has burned out bulbs). Most interestingly, the rule does not apply where the unfavored driver makes a right turn on red at an intersection that is controlled by a traffic light, but there is no sign prohibiting a right turn on red.
Maryland’s Traffic Laws: Unavoidable Accident
Rear-end collision is a type of accident that occurs quite frequently. Most people think that in a rear-end collision the second driver — the one that is behind — is always at fault. However, Maryland law requires both the front and rear drivers to exercise due care. The rear driver must follow at a safe distance, and the front driver must signal her intention to slow down or stop.
The signaling duty of the front driver is easily fulfilled: you simply need properly-functioning rear brake lights. The duty of the rear driver is less straightforward: what is considered to be a “safe distance” will change depending on the speed of travel, number of cars on the road, weather conditions, and other factors. Since it is easier for courts to determine whether the lead driver was negligent or not, rear drivers are most often found to be at fault.
However, just because a collision occurred, does not mean that someone must be at fault. The law recognizes “unavoidable accidents;” for example where two cars on a three-lane highway traveling in the same direction merge into the center lane striking each other, neither driver will likely be found to be at fault.
Maryland’s Traffic Laws: Contributory Negligence
The rule of Contributory Negligence states that a plaintiff cannot recover anything from a defendant if the plaintiff herself was even slightly negligent. For example, if in a car accident the plaintiff was 10% at fault and the defendant was 90% at fault, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages at all.
This rigid rule of Contributory Negligence is somewhat outdated. Once prevalent nation-wide, it remains in effect only in 5 jurisdictions: Alabama, DC, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia. All other states have replaced it with the rule of Comparative Negligence, which many people believe to be fairer. The rule of Comparative Negligence allows the plaintiff to recover a portion of damages commensurate with her fault. So in the above example, if the plaintiff was 10% at fault for the accident, then she will be able to recover 90% of her damages from the defendant.