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WPI 70.04 Duty of Following Driver

6 WAPRAC WPI 70.04Washington Practice Series TMWashington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil

6 Wash. Prac., Wash. Pattern Jury Instr. Civ. WPI 70.04 (7th ed.)
Washington Practice Series TM
Washington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil
April 2022 Update
Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions
Part VIII. Motor Vehicles
Chapter 70. Motor Vehicles
WPI 70.04 Duty of Following Driver
A statute provides that a driver shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the street or highway.
When one vehicle is following another vehicle, the primary duty of avoiding a collision rests upon the driver of the following vehicle. It may be considered evidence of negligence if the following vehicle collides with the vehicle ahead, in the absence of an emergency. The driver of the following vehicle is not necessarily excused even in the event of an emergency. It is the duty of the driver of the following vehicle to keep such distance and maintain such observation of the vehicle ahead that the following vehicle is able to safely stop if confronted by an emergency that is reasonably foreseeable from traffic conditions.
Use WPI 60.03 (Violation of Statute, Ordinance, Administrative Rule, or Internal Governmental Policy—Evidence of Negligence) with this instruction. It may also be appropriate under some circumstances to use WPI 12.02 (Duty of One Confronted with an Emergency) in conjunction with this instruction.
RCW 46.61.145(1). RCW 46.61.145 was amended in 2019 to add additional sections (4)–(6) stipulating enhanced penalties in some circumstances for a traffic infraction arising out of the conduct of following too closely. Laws of 2019, Chapter 403, § 4. The instruction has not been amended.
This statute contains additional duties of a towing vehicle and of vehicles travelling in a caravan or motorcade. RCW 46.61.145(2) and (3). If the facts warrant, an additional instruction may be offered. See Tao v. Li, 140 Wn.App. 825, 166 P.3d 1263 (2007) (analyzing a principal and agent right to control the following driver in the caravan).
This instruction must be given if the case involves a following driver. Bichl v. Poinier, 71 Wn.2d 492, 429 P.2d 228 (1967) (citing Van Ry v. Montgomery, 58 Wn.2d 46, 360 P.2d 573 (1961)); see also Lidel v. Kelly, 52 Wn.2d 238, 324 P.2d 817 (1958).
It is a well-established rule of law that in the absence of an emergency, the following driver is prima facie negligent if that driver runs into the vehicle ahead. Vanderhoff v. Fitzgerald, 72 Wn.2d 103, 431 P.2d 969 (1967); Miller v. Cody, 41 Wn.2d 775, 252 P.2d 303 (1953); Martini v. State, 121 Wn.App.150, 173–74, 89 P.3d 250 (2004) (addressing when an instruction on following too close is warranted). Even an emergency will not excuse the following driver if the emergency arose out of ordinary traffic conditions or was an emergency that the driver should have reasonably anticipated. See Izett v. Walker, 67 Wn.2d 903, 410 P.2d 802 (1966), and Billington v. Schaal, 42 Wn.2d 878, 259 P.2d 634 (1953), both affirming instructions referring to emergency stops dictated by ordinary traffic conditions.
When the driver of the vehicle in front (“preceding driver”) acts in an unusual or unexpected manner that the following driver could not reasonably anticipate, a finding that the following driver was negligent as a matter of law in colliding with the preceding vehicle may be precluded. James v. Niebuhr, 63 Wn.2d 800, 389 P.2d 287 (1964) (suddenly stopping at a place where a stop is not anticipated); Vanwagenen v. Roy, 21 Wn.App. 581, 587 P.2d 173 (1978); Ryan v. Westgard, 12 Wn.App. 500, 530 P.2d 687 (1975). Under such circumstances the negligence of the following driver and the contributory negligence of the preceding driver are questions of fact; the jury decides whether the preceding driver's conduct should have been anticipated. See Rhoades v. DeRosier, 14 Wn.App. 946, 546 P.2d 930 (1976).
In a contributory negligence context, the Court of Appeals approved an instruction that informed the jury that it is a violation of a statute (RCW 46.61.560) for a driver to “stop, park, or leave standing” any vehicle upon the roadway. Palmer v. Jensen, 81 Wn.App. 148, 154, 913 P.2d 413 (1996) (rear-end collision case).
This instruction does not apply to a “changing lanes” situation. See Roumel v. Fude, 62 Wn.2d 397, 383 P.2d 283 (1963); Grapp v. Peterson, 25 Wn.2d 44, 168 P.2d 400 (1946). This instruction likewise does not apply to an overtaking and passing case, because one car is not following the other in such a situation. This instruction does not apply to a rear end collision with a car that was stopped on the roadway and never was followed by the other car. Szupkay v. Cozzetti, 37 Wn.App. 30, 678 P.2d 358 (1984); Svehaug v. Donoghue, 5 Wn.App. 817, 490 P.2d 1345 (1971).
[Current as of February 2021.]
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