We live in a very busy area. Fairfax County is home to over a million people and a following too closely charge is extremely common. Because when you add vehicles to that population you have vehicles absolutely everywhere. As a result, it is no longer possible (or appropriate) to say a particular location is a certain distance away without traffic. When is there no traffic in this area?
Following Too Close: §46.2-816
Virginia Traffic Code §46.2-816 requires that a vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable. The Virginia Code somewhat defines "reasonable" as giving regard for the speed of both vehicles and surrounding traffic, and the conditions of the highway.
The statute takes into consideration that, if you're in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are not expected to stay well-behind the vehicle in front of you. However, it does articulate that highway conditions should be considered during the commute. For example, if it is raining or snowing, you would be expected to give plenty of room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front since normal operation of your vehicle would be hindered due to the weather conditions. Braking is more difficult in these conditions and so is visibility.
Tailgating and Accident Cases
In some cases, an officer will charge following too close because of tailgating. This is an offense that is charged in order to avoid an accident. Depending on how severe the tailgating is, it can lead to an Aggressive Driving charge. However, with a decent driving record, many times, we can negotiate in Court to a lesser offense to avoid points and insurance rate increases.
In other cases, when there is an accident, the person charged is usually the one that rear-ended the other driver. However, we have seen cases where our client is charged with following too close when, in reality, the other driver cut them off and then immediately hit their brakes. Our client is then not given enough time to stop since the buffer space they had created was taken away by the other driver. Judges appear to give credence to the officer since the officer issued the charge but the Court does give regard to our client's testimony since they were present during the accident. In these cases, it important to go to trial.
It should be noted that, in accident cases, the Fairfax County General District Court does not bring witnesses to the first court hearing. Rather, the person is given an opportunity to plead "guilty" and resolve the case that day (and the Judge will usually issue a fine). If the person pleads "not guilty," then the case will be continued for trial and for the witnesses to appear. In accident cases, we will have our clients enter a "not guilty" plea to set the case for trial.
Punishment for Following Too Close
If convicted, following too closely is a 4 point offense for DMV demerit point purposes. It will remain on the driving record for 3 years and has a maximum fine of $250. The fine can be prepaid for $30 and is a guilty plea to the charge upon prepayment.
It should also be noted that if the case involves an accident, to keep liability in check, it is important to enter a "not guilty" plea in Court and let the insurance companies handle any civil claims. You don't want to plead "guilty" and then deny responsibility for the accident since your position will not match with what occurred at the court hearing.
Call Us For a Free Consultation
We are in traffic court daily. Whether this is a simple tailgating incident or an accident, we can help you ascertain whether it is better to prepay or to go to trial. In many cases, we can appear on your behalf so you don't need to appear for court. Our costs are reasonable and will handle your case in a manner consistent with your best interests.