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January 30th, 2009

Need your legal advice...

Hi, folks, I need some legal advice. Just your thoughts on the matter, if you have an opinion.


As you already know, I was involved in an accident in December. On a day that had been rainy but at a time after dark at which it wasn't raining, I was driving in the right-most land on a six-lane roadway (with three lanes going in my direction) with a speed limit of 35mph. There was stop-and-go traffic typical of rush-hour, and I was about to get on to a freeway. Traffic started moving forward once again and so I managed to get up to 20mph for a few seconds when the two vehicles immediately in front of me changed lanes to the next lane to the left, both at the same time. This revealed that the row of vehicles in my lane were completely stopped. I quickly applied my brakes, however my brakes locked (despite having anti-lock brakes) and I slid directly into the vehicle in front of me. All four of the brakes on my vehicle were completely replaced in January, about 8,000 miles before.

There's no question that I was "at fault" in the accident.

The issue is that the police officer who filed the report informed me that he was required to issue a citation in every accident. He said that he had a choice of citing me for driving too closely or for speeding, and he didn't think I was driving too closely, but that if I had been driving slower I wouldn't have impacted the vehicle in front of me and therefore that one made the most sense.

He cited me for California Vehicle Code 22350, which reads, "No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property." The officer told me he also wouldn't have any issues if I opted to contest the citation. He actually seemed sympathetic toward me; he didn't to cite me but it was the policy of Mountain View Police.

It was my intention to contest the citation because I certainly wasn't speeding and I also don't believe that I was driving faster than was reasonable or prudent given the circumstances of the weather, visibility, and condition of the roadway. I believe that the failure of my vehicle's brakes were the root cause of the situation.

But as I read the text of the law, I see the last portion, "and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property." This seems like a catch-all; any accident resulting in damage to a person or property may be technically guilty of this code whether they were driving at 1mph or 100mph.

I have the option to contest the citation in a court trial (no jury, just a judge and any witnesses) or I have the option to pay a $185 fine and attend traffic school to prevent the citation from appearing on my record. If I choose the traffic school option, I'll be ineligible for traffic school again for the next eighteen months. I don't think this will be an issue as I haven't received a citation in over ten years, but one never knows.


What do you think I should do?

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