Ability to Avoid

Disabled Vehicle Collision

Case Synopsis: A disabled vehicle with no electrical power, therefore no lights, was stopped in the left lane of an unlit, limited-access highway at night.  Two vehicles were approaching the area of the disabled vehicle. The first approaching vehicle moves to the right to go around the stopped vehicle.  By doing so, the disabled vehicle is now exposed to the second approaching vehicle.  The second vehicle cannot avoid and strikes the disabled vehicle. The impacting vehicle operator claims the collision occurred as a result of a “conspicuity” problem.  That is, the unlit, disabled vehicle blended into the dark background and was not sufficiently conspicuous to the approaching vehicle operator to be avoided.

Expert Analysis: While lack of conspicuity can often be a valid explanation as to why objects at night are struck [even when headlights of the impacting vehicle are illuminated], the argument was rebutted in this case by the ability of the first approaching vehicle operator to identify the un-lit disabled vehicle within their headlights and to then safely avoid the hazard created by the stopped vehicle.  Further, the claim was that the second approaching vehicle was following the first vehicle at too close of a distance and that was the reason the collision occurred. The impacting vehicle operator countered that he was not following at too close of a distance and the reason the first approaching vehicle was able to avoid the disabled vehicle was that the first vehicle had no other vehicles in front and so had the ability to utilize its high beams to illuminate the disabled vehicle.

Conclusion: A night inspection of the area established that a dark object would not have been illuminated under low beams to a sufficient degree to be identifiable until the approaching vehicle was approximately 150 feet away.  This would not have been sufficient distance to perceive, react and change lanes at the posted speed limit of 55 mph.

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