Rear-End Collisions

Rear-End CollisionRear-end collisions, where the front of the striking vehicle hits the rear of the vehicle being struck, are the most common type of car accidents.

It is estimated that rear-enders constitute about 40% of all car accidents. That would mean that there were about 2,200,000 rear-end accidents in 2009, the last year for which we have figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That is more than 6,000 rear-end collisions per day in the United States alone!

Causes Of Rear-End Collisions

These are some of the factors that can cause, or contribute to causing, rear-end collisions:

  • Speed. Drivers who drive too fast to be able to stop in time.
  • Tailgating. Failing to keep a safe distance between the driver’s car and the car in front of it.
  • Inattention. Drivers who are distracted by eating, talking, looking away from the road, talking on the phone, texting, etc.
  • Driving Under the Influence. Of course, driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs can lead to rear-end collisions.
  • Unsafe lane change.
  • Weather conditions. Rain, snow, ice, fog and dust can make the roadway slippery and can limit visibility.
  • Road conditions. Wet, snowy and icy roadways can contribute to rear-end collisions.
  • Defective vehicles. Cars with defective brakes or tires without sufficient tread can cause a vehicle to slide into a rear-ender.

Injuries Caused By Rear-End Collisions

Of course, not all rear-end collisions result in injuries. However, hundreds of thousands of people are injured in rear-end collisions in the United States each year.

The Most Common Injuries Caused By Rear-End Collisions

These injuries are most common after a rear-end collision:

Whiplash from rear-end collision

  • Neck injuries. When your car is hit from the rear, your neck snaps back and then forward. This can result in a hyperextension/hyperflexion injury, which is sometimes called whiplash. These injuries vary in severity and, while not all are, whiplash injuries can be permanent and disabling. Even more serious injuries, such as herniated discs, are possible.
  • Back injuries. Sprains, strains and herniated discs in the mid-back (called the thoracic spine) and the low back (the lumbar ppine) can also result from rear-enders.
  • Face and head injuries. Your face and head may strike the steering wheel or the windshield in a rear-end collision, possibly resulting in bruises, lacerations or even closed-head injuries such as concussions, or worse. It is also possible to sustain a closed-head injury without striking the interior of your car. The violent back and front movement of your head can injure your brain by causing it to strike against the inside of your skull.
  • Wrist, hand and shoulder injuries. These can occur when your hands and arms are jammed into your steering wheel by the impact.
  • Seatbelt injuries. When your seatbelt and shoulder harness engage, they can cause bruising.
  • Airbag injuries. Your airbag may deploy if your rear-end collision forces you into a car in front of you. The contents of airbags sometimes cause burns.

Factors That Affect Whether You Are Injured In A Rear-End Collision

Whether a driver or passenger is injured, and if so, how seriously they are injured, may be affected by these factors:

  • Where they are seated in the vehicle. In a rear-end collision, passengers in the rear of vans are more vulnerable than those seated closer to the front of the vehicle.
  • Proper positioning of headrests. Proper headrest positioning can prevent neck injuries.
  • Use of seatbelts and airbags. While they can cause comparatively minor injuries, seatbelts and airbags have been demonstrated to save lives and prevent more serious injuries.
  • Awareness of the impending crash. If a driver and her passengers know about an impending crash, they can brace themselves and this can prevent injuries or lessen their severity.

When Do The Symptoms of Rear-End Collision Injuries Begin?

When there are injuries in a rear-end collision, the symptoms of those injuries usually occur promptly, either at the scene of the accident or soon after, after the stress of the accident subsides.

However, the symptoms of legitimate rear-end collision injuries may not arise for days or even weeks.

My best advice: if in doubt, check it out. That is, consult a doctor as soon as you experience symptoms of an injury after a rear-end accident.

Legal Claims Resulting From Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions can result in car damage claims or car accident injury claims, both of which are discussed elsewhere here at

Generally, though . . .

The driver who caused the accident is responsible for paying for all property damage that results from the accident. This is even true in so-called “no fault” states.

On the other hand, responsibility for paying compensation for injuries depends on the car insurance laws of the state where the accident happened. In states which have a fault system, the driver who caused the accident must pay to compensate all others who are injured.

However, in the 12 no-fault states, regardless of who caused the accident, your insurance company pays for your financial losses, such as medical bills and lost income, but you are not compensated for non-financial losses such as the pain and suffering you experience as you recover from your injuries. There are exceptions to this rule when injuries are serious, so be sure to consult with a local lawyer if you are injured in an accident in a no-fault state.

Who is at fault and responsible for causing a rear-end collision depends on the circumstances.

However, normally, if someone hits your vehicle from behind, they are responsible.

That is because a basic rule of the road requires following drivers to drive at a safe speed and to keep a safe distance between their vehicle and yours.

Occasionally, there are exceptions to the general rule that the following driver is at fault. These are some of the possible exceptions:

  • A third vehicle. The following driver was driven into the rear of your car by another car. Then, the driver of the other car is the cause of your damages and injuries.
  • Cutoff. A driver swerves in front of another car, such as when changing lanes, and then abruptly stops. The driver in front could be determined to be the cause of the crash or, at least, also negligent. Contributory negligence (which only 4 states recognize) and comparative negligence (which, in one of several different forms, applies in the other states) defeat, or at least minimize, a claim.
  • Road rage. The driver in front intentionally slams on the brakes, such as when angry with a tailgater. Both drivers could be found at fault.
  • Backing. If a driver in front does not see the vehicle behind it and backs into the rear vehicle, the backing driver is at fault.
  • Disabled vehicle without warning. A disabled vehicle does not have on emergency flashers, especially at night, and is struck from the rear. It could be determined that the driver of the disabled vehicle caused or contributed to causing the crash.
  • Safety equipment defects. The front vehicle’s brake and/or tail lights are out so that the following driver does not get a signal that the vehicle in front is stopping. Here, also, the front driver could be found to be the sole cause of the rear-end collision, or, at least, a contributing cause.