When you get behind the wheel, you have a full amount of control over your own actions and driving habits. However, you have no control over the actions and driving habits of others on the road. No matter how careful you are, you can still end up in a crash when someone hits you from behind. Rear-end accidents are particularly shocking, because you usually can’t see them coming.
Based on recent reportable crashes, in Texas, one reportable crash happens every 58 seconds. Rear-end collisions happen every day. There are approximately 1.7 million rear-end collisions each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that rear-end collisions are the number one type of vehicle collision, accounting for 29 percent of car accidents nationwide.
Like everywhere else, rear-end collisions are some of the most common types of collisions in Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation does not compile statistics on the number of rear-end accidents. However, it does keep records of crash contributing factors. Following too closely is a major cause of rear-end crashes. Statewide, in just one year, following too closely contributed to 24,146 total crashes. Of these, 16 were fatal crashes.
Common Causes of Rear-End Collisions
In a rear-end collision, one car crashes into the rear of another vehicle. A 2007 study commissioned by the NHTSA found that most of these crashes happen when the vehicle in front is either moving slowly or stopped. Approximately 81 percent of rear-end crashes happened when the vehicle in front was at a complete stop.
Most rear-end collisions happen during the day, on straight, dry, level roads. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 were 1.9 times more likely to be involved in a rear-end crash than other drivers. Rear-end crashes often involve more than just two vehicles, especially on highways and freeways.
All drivers have a legal duty of care. It means drivers must obey the law, maintain their vehicles properly and avoid reckless driving habits. It also means maintaining a safe distance from the driver ahead of them. According to the Texas Transportation Code’s Rules of the Road, cars should keep a distance of at least one car’s length between vehicles and allow at least two to three seconds of open space between their vehicle and the one in front.
Drivers have a duty to pay attention to the road conditions, weather conditions, and traffic patterns of the vehicles ahead. After taking into account all of the above, a driver must drive at a speed that leaves enough room between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead to stop and or avoid a crash. This is commonly referred to as keeping a safe distance. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent. All kinds of circumstances can cause a rear-end collision, including unexpected events such as a breakdown, accident, or people, animals, or objects in the road.
Common causes include:
- Sudden stops. Most rear-end crash events (59 percent) involved a stopped lead vehicle; only 22 percent of rear-end crashes occurred when the lead vehicle was decelerating.
- Tailgating. Approximately one-third of rear-end collisions are the result of tailgating. When a driver is tailgating, he or she is violating the law by failing to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles. People sometimes become frustrated when traveling behind a vehicle that is moving more slowly than they would like. However, tailgating is risky, affecting stopping distance, perception and reaction times. It can also contribute to road rage situations.
- Driving while impaired. When a driver is impaired due to drug or alcohol use, their driving skills are affected. Reaction times are slowed, the driver may fail to see the vehicle in front braking, or misjudging the time needed to stop safely.
- Distracted driving. In Texas, distracted driving contributes to one in five crashes, and distracted driving causes about 90 percent of rear-end crashes. Research shows that different types of distractions are associated with crashes, near-crashes, and incidents. Daydreaming and eating are strongly associated with crashes. Using wireless devices, particularly cell phones, was one of the primary distraction-causing activities that contributed to near-crashes and incidents. Passenger related distractions also contributed to many near-crashes and incidents.
- Speeding. Rear-end collisions can happen at any speed. A speeding driver does not leave enough space between their vehicle and the vehicle in front. High-speed accidents can cause serious injuries and fatalities, but even low speed rear-end collisions can lead to serious injuries. Slow speed collisions are common in bumper to bumper traffic, intersections, and parking lots.
- Drowsy driving. Too many people drive when they are tired. If the fatigue is severe enough, it could be as dangerous for the person to drive as if he was drunk. According to a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who got only five or six hours’ sleep in the prior 24 hours were just as dangerous as a driver with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, which means someone who would be driving under the influence.
- Weather. Poor weather, such as rain, fog, ice or snow, or other hazardous road conditions makes driving treacherous. It reduces visibility and a driver may hit another car when they are unable to stop or lose control.
- Construction zones. Rear-end collisions are among the most common kinds of crashes in construction zones. In work zones, traffic is often backed up and drivers leave less space between their vehicle and the vehicle in front. Because the cars are more tightly-packed and some lanes may be closed, there is less room to maneuver and avoid an accident. Drivers also may become frustrated and drive more aggressively.
- Brake light failure. The purpose of brake lights is to warn other drivers that the vehicle is slowing down. Broken tail lights often lead to a rear-end collision.
Who Is at fault?
Generally, the driver of the back car is considered partially or fully at fault because they should have allowed a safe distance between the cars. However, it is possible for the driver of the car in front to be negligent and thereby contribute to the accident.
Some of these situations include:
- The front driver backed into the rear driver. Drivers sometimes back up to change lanes, make a turn, or get out of an intersection. It may look like a classic rear-end collision, but the unexpected actions of the driver in front may contribute to fault.
- The front car slams on the brakes for no reason. Generally, the car in back must maintain a safe distance from the other car so that they can come to a stop when necessary. However, in some situations, the car in front slams on the brakes for no reason at all.
- Cars pulling out of parking lots must yield the right of way. If a driver pulls out of a parking lot without checking to be sure the way is clear, or if they pull out too fast or misjudge the oncoming traffic, that driver may be at fault.
- The front car changes lanes unsafely, the car in back may strike them from the rear. In that case, the car in front may have contributed to the fault.
- The car behind may be liable for the collision if its driver was guilty of negligence or recklessness that caused the crash. Common examples include distracted driving, drowsy driving, drunk driving, and speeding. Someone who is texting and driving may not notice the vehicle in front has come to a stop.
- The driver in front stops to turn but fails to complete the turn.
- The rear driver also experienced a rear collision. When a vehicle is hit from behind with sufficient force to push it into other vehicles, that driver may have limited liability.
The law usually considers the following circumstances not the fault of either driver:
- The rear driver has a sudden, unforeseen medical emergency, such as a loss of consciousness.
- The rear driver is unable to stop because of a defect in the manufacturing or design of the vehicle, in which case the manufacturer of the car may be at fault.
Common Injuries Caused by Rear-End Collisions
Sometimes, the injuries that victims sustain in a rear-end collision may not be immediately apparent, so anyone who is involved in a traffic accident—any traffic accident—must obtain medical attention right away, even after a low-speed collision. Proper and immediate medical treatment can often keep an injury from resulting in permanent damage.
A rear-end collision suddenly propels the front car forward. As a result, the driver and passengers in the front car are thrown backward and forward. A crash at 30 miles per hour is estimated to be equal to 1.6 tons of force on someone wearing a seatbelt. Without a seatbelt, the force is even greater. Whiplash can occur at speeds as low as 2.5 mph. A high-speed collision, therefore, can cause severe damage.
Common injuries include:
- Whiplash. Whiplash is a frequent injury in rear-end crashes. The rapid back and forth movement of the neck can cause damage to the soft tissues. Symptoms may not appear until days or weeks after the accident. Some whiplash victims suffer chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.
- Back injuries. Severe injuries to the back or spine can leave the injured person partially or totally paralyzed. Even low-speed collisions can result in compression of the spine and discs.
- Traumatic head injuries. Head injuries are very serious. Some result in a concussion. Others may cause loss of consciousness, seizures, loss of coordination, behavioral or cognitive difficulties, and long-term disability. It is important to seek medical care because the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may not be immediately apparent.
- Facial disfigurement. Facial injuries, such as a broken jaw, nose, or detached retina, can have a physical and psychological impact. They may cause constant pain, vision loss, or can also alter speech patterns. Victims may also require multiple surgeries to achieve only minor improvements to their appearance or facial structure.
- Wrist and arm injuries. During a car crash, the wrists and arms may be wrenched or struck by objects in the car. Sometimes drivers, in anticipation of a crash, brace themselves, leading to broken bones and sprains.
- Seatbelt and airbag injuries. Seatbelts and airbags save lives, but in some cases, they may also cause injuries, such as bruising or broken bones.
Compensation Following a Rear-End Accident
After a rear-end accident, you may be left with numerous injuries and significant damage to your vehicle. Catastrophic injuries may leave you with devastating long term personal and financial consequences. Once the other driver’s negligence has been established, you may wish to pursue compensation for your physical, psychological, and financial damages.
Depending on your circumstances, you may collect compensation for losses such as:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional and psychological distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of society and companionship
- Property damage, if applicable
- Punitive Damages, if applicable
How to Prevent Rear-End Collisions
Whether or not you are at fault, the best way to avoid a rear-end collision is to drive defensively. Many rear-end accidents can be avoided by allowing a safe distance from the car ahead of you and by maintaining a consistent speed if you are driving the car in front. Always remain vigilant. Remember to check your side and rearview mirrors regularly. If you notice someone is tailgating or speeding up behind you, try to merge safely into another lane to avoid a potential crash.
If you are approaching very slow or stopped traffic, allow plenty of distance from the car in front of you. That way, you still have some room to maneuver. When you are driving on the freeway, be especially aware of possible traffic jams. If you are approaching traffic that is very slow or stopped, allow extra room if you have to stop.
While many of these common-sense tips can greatly reduce the odds of suffering a rear-end accident, there is no way to protect yourself from the poor decisions of another driver. If you were in a rear-end collision, speaking with an experienced car accident attorney is one of the best ways to understand your options, and help develop a plan for moving forward.