Over and over again, police in every jurisdiction issue careless driving tickets to people involved in motor vehicle accidents, even though there was no one to witness it. In most cases, the accident involves two cars. In the majority of those situations, neither motorist believes they were at fault. In some instances, if not many, neither person is even aware how the accident occurred. Sometimes a careless driving summons is issued even when there were no other cars involved in the accident and there were no witnesses, i.e. driver runs into guardrail.
Nonetheless, police are quick to make their own findings, and issue a ticket to who they believe to be at fault.
Just because an accident occurred, does not mean that you drove carelessly. in fact, New Jersey case law says just the opposite. In order for the state to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, there must prove that the defendant lacked due caution and circumspection, and it resulted in danger or likelihood of danger to person or property. Both elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt
There needs to be some evidence of the defendant’s manner of driving. Simple being in an accident does not demonstrate anything. Yet, most prosecutors would rather make the self represented defendant prove his case in the court room and hold you to the rules of court then dismiss. They are confident you will say something to incriminate yourself. Alternatively, they may offer you an amendment to a zero point unsafe operation of a motor vehicle offense which is a $400 ticket and you only get to use if twice in five years.
In most of the careless driving cases I handle, the only evidence of carelessness is the accident. In many others, the only witness to the careless driving is the other driver who has a real stake in not being the one who was at fault. For that reason, the testimony of that person is motivated, which brings its credibility into question.
If you have been in an accident and issued a ticket for careless driving, or if you have been issued a ticket for careless driving under for some other reason, it really would be smart to consult with a lawyer who deals with violations of NJSA 4:97 on a daily basis.