If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Vermont, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, use the State of Vermont statutes specified in each section to search the Vermont legislation database.
Here are the Vermont car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk.
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
No pedestrian must enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk when traffic is so close that it might constitute an immediate hazard, nor must any pedestrian enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk where traffic signs forbid such entry.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:
- Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
- Don’t Walk. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk while the Don’t Walk or Upraised Palm signal is showing.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.
Pedestrians can cross an intersection diagonally only when it is authorized by traffic-control devices.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway.
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.
Drivers to Exercise Due Care
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care when approaching or passing a vulnerable user, such as a pedestrian, upon any roadway.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- Upon a roadway with three (3) marked lanes of traffic
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within two hundred feet of oncoming traffic.
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices
Drivers under the age of eighteen (18) must not drive while using a portable electronic device, except for the sole purpose of calling emergency services.
Drivers eighteen (18) years of age or older are not permitted to read, compose or send electronic or text messages while operating a moving vehicle. Drivers can use hands-free portable electronic devices.
Sections 23-13-1095, 1095(b), and 1099
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers on the roadway to be crossed.
Sections 23-13-1046 and 23-13-1049
Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic
Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway.
A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride in the same lane or within 10 feet of another motorcycle.
Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.
Sections 23-13-1256 and 23-13-1257
Motorcycles and Headlights
The light from the front headlamp of a motorcycle might make any substantial object on the ground clearly visible at least one hundred (100) feet ahead of the motorcycle.
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A driver who drives in a negligent manner is guilty of negligent operation, and can be fined and imprisoned.
A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive or attempt to drive upon any highway when the person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.02 or more.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, other than themselves, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give his or her name, residence, license number, and the name of the owner of the motor vehicle to any person who is injured or whose property is damaged and to any enforcement officer.
Moreover the driver must render any assistance reasonably necessary.
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person other than themselves must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident. The driver must render any assistance reasonably necessary.
The driver must give his or her name, residence, license number, and the name of the owner of the motor vehicle to any person who is injured or whose property is damaged and to any police officer.
The driver must also produce make a written report concerning the accident to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles on forms provided by the Commissioner. The written report must be mailed to the Commissioner within 72 hours after the accident.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in total damage to all property to the extent of three thousand dollars ($3,000) or more must make a written report concerning the accident to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles on forms provided by the Commissioner. The written report must be mailed to the Commissioner within 72 hours after the accident.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on Vermont roadways.
An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, in a locked glove compartment, or in the area behind the rearmost upright seat (a space not normally occupied by a passenger).
Passengers of a hired vehicle can consume and possess an opened container if there is a barrier that prevents passengers from passing containers to the driver.
Sections 23-13-1134 and 23-13-1134a
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways.
In Vermont, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Vermont Dram Shop Law
Vermont has a Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
Under Vermont law, a person who provides alcohol is liable for the actions of an intoxicated person if the server or seller provided alcohol under any of the following conditions:
- To a minor
- To an obviously intoxicated person
- To a person who would reasonably be expected to be intoxicated given how much alcohol they have been served
- To a person after legal serving hours
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of Vermont, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two (2) or more people
- $10,000 per occurrence for property damage
Vermont Insurance Information
For information about buying auto insurance, see the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation website.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In Vermont, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.
If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 12-27-1036
Right of Way: 23-13-1051
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Sections 23-13-1095, 1095(b) and 1099
Vermont’s No Fault Car Insurance
In Vermont, the law gives car owners the option of purchasing no-fault car insurance. No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.
No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.
For information about buying auto insurance, see the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation website.
Statute of Limitations
Vermont has a six (6) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a claim within the six (6) year period following the date of the accident.
Small Claims Courts
In Vermont, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.
To submit a claim in small claims court, visit the State of Vermont Judiciary website and see the small claims forms.
Vermont Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In Vermont, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.
If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
If Melissa, an engineer with the Rutland Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Rutland would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Rutland can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.
To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
Vermont places a cap on the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed against a government agency or its employees. The maximum liability of the State is $500,000 to any one person and $2,000,000 to all persons arising out of one occurrence.
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