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Following Too Closely in Georgia
In Georgia, "following too closely" is used as a catch-all law. Because it can cover a wide variety of behaviors, Following Too Closely is one of the more common traffic offenses I see in my law practice. The applicable code section is O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49. In general, it forbids drivers from following other vehicles "more closely than is reasonable and prudent," considering the speed of the vehicles, the other traffic on the road, and the condition of the highway.
Following Too Closely can be used to charge drivers who are caught tailgating other drivers. For example, in Totino v. State, an officer saw the defendant driving "right on the tail" of another vehicle, sometimes less than 5 feet from the car in front while traveling approximately 70 miles per hour. Totino v. State, 266 Ga.App. 265 (2004).
The State may also use this code section to charge a driver who is deemed responsible for rear-ending someone else in an accident (the assumption being that, if they were close enough to rear-end another driver, they were necessarily following them too closely). In Sevostiyanova v. State, the defendant rear-ended a car before leaving the scene. The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. Sevostiyanova v. State, 313 Ga.App. 729 (2012).
Importantly, you do not need to follow another driver for any significant period to be considered "following" under this law. For example, if you approach a car that has slowed down to turn and you rear-end them, you are deemed to have been "following" them and may be charged with Following Too Closely.
There are several more specific scenarios that the statute also covers. They apply, respectively, to vehicles towing other vehicles and to caravans and/or motorcades. First, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49(b) states that a driver of a vehicle that is towing another vehicle and following another motor truck shall, when possible, leave sufficient space so that a passing vehicle may enter between them without danger. This applies only to vehicles driving outside of a business or residential district.
Similarly, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49(c) states that vehicles moving in a caravan must leave sufficient space between each vehicle to allow other (non-caravan) vehicles to pass and occupy the space between them without danger. This does not apply to "funeral processions, parades, or other groups of vehicles if such groups of vehicles are under the supervision and control of a law enforcement agency."
What does "reasonable and prudent" mean in this law?
Whether a driver's actions were "reasonable and prudent" is a question for a jury to decide. It is not defined in the law. Therefore, in a "Following Too Closely" trial, the jury must consider all factors surrounding the incident. These include the speed of the vehicles, the other traffic on the road, and the condition of the highway.
It is easy to assume that a person charged with Following Too Closely will always be deemed at fault, especially in an accident. However, there are scenarios where the lead car - the car in front - may be the at-fault driver. The Georgia Court of Appeals has stated that the driver of a leading vehicle must also exercise care. They must not "stop, slow up, or swerve from their course without adequate warning to following vehicles of their intentions." Lynch v. Broom, 158 Ga.App. 52 (1981). There may also be situations where a lead driver is committing traffic offenses. These include situations where the lead car is driving aggressively, recklessly, or engaging in "brake checking." Click here to read more about aggressive driving.
There is one major exception to this law. However, this exception applies in a tiny number of cases. The law states: "This Code section shall not apply to the operator of any non-leading vehicle traveling in a coordinated platoon. For purposes of this subsection, the term 'coordinated platoon' means a group of motor vehicles traveling in the same lane utilizing vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology."
Following Too Closely is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia. That means that it carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail or on probation. That said, most drivers charged with a single count of Following Too Closely are not facing the possibility of jail time. More likely, a traffic court judge will force them to pay a fine.
However, Following Too Closely is also a 3-Point offense in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS). Once DDS receives a record of a conviction, it will assess those points to the driver's record. While 3 points may seem inconsequential, it is essential to note that getting too many points in a short period can result in license suspension. This is especially true if your driving record is less than spotless or if you are a younger driver. Click here. Traffic tickets can also increase insurance rates.
Relationship to Other Traffic Laws
Following Too Closely may not seem like a serious offense in and of itself. However, Georgia courts have held that a stop for Following Too Closely may serve as the basis for further investigation. The subsequent investigation may result in an arrest on additional, more serious charges. For example, in Pollack v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals denied the defendant's motion to suppress because the officers legally stopped the defendant after observing him following another car too closely. After the stop, police discovered evidence of drug possession and arrested the defendant. Pollack v. State, 294 Ga.App. 400 (2008).
Why You Need a Lawyer If You Are Charged With Following Too Closely
It is tempting to think of traffic offenses as "no big deal." However, even seemingly minor traffic violations can affect your ability to keep driving, especially if you are a young driver or have a few points on your license already. Plus, fines for traffic offenses can be steep, and your insurance rates may go up as a result of a conviction. As an experienced Georgia Traffic Attorney, I do my best to help you avoid these and other unforeseen consequences of a Following Too Closely conviction. Questions? Call me today.
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