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Motor Vehicle Rules

Rules regarding the operation of motor vehicles on a state's highways are generally set forth in the state's vehicle code or transportation code. These rules often determine whether a defendant is liable for a motor vehicle accident.

Under most vehicle or transportation codes, a vehicle is defined as any device that may be propelled, moved, or driven on a highway. A vehicle does not generally include any device that may be moved by human power, such as a bicycle. A highway is a road that is maintained by a governmental entity and that is used by the public for vehicular traffic.

Defendant's Duty of Care

A defendant in a tort action is deemed to have failed to exercise due care when he or she violates a statute, an ordinance or a regulation and proximately causes the death or injury of another person. The defendant is also deemed to have failed to exercise due care when the statute, ordinance, or regulation that was violated was designed to prevent the death or the injury of the other person. Therefore, a defendant who violates a vehicle or transportation code and causes the death or injury of another person is presumed to be negligent as a matter of law. However, this presumption of negligence may be rebutted by evidence that the defendant could not comply with the code or that the defendant was justified in not complying with the code. The presumption of negligence cannot be rebutted by evidence that the defendant was exercising reasonable care in violating the code.

Although proof of a defendant's violation of a vehicle code or a transportation code gives rise to a presumption of negligence in a tort action, the defendant's criminal conviction of the code does not have a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect in the tort action. In other words, the defendant's criminal conviction does not prevent a plaintiff from bringing the tort action against the defendant.

Because many vehicle code or transportation code provisions only require a motor vehicle driver to exercise reasonable care, the fact that the driver violated a code provision may not always be relevant. In motor vehicle accident cases, it is the driver's failure to exercise reasonable care that makes the driver liable for a plaintiff's injuries. The fact that the driver also violated a code provision may not be necessary in order to hold the driver responsible for the accident.

The rules that are set forth in most vehicle codes or transportation codes for automobiles include rules regarding road signs and markings, starting and stopping, speeding, signaling and turning, and rights of way. The rules may also include rules for other vehicles, such as trucks, bicycles, and motorcycles.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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