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Rear-End Accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that rear-end crashes were responsible for approximately 29% of all car accidents in 2015. By 2019, that figure increased to 32.5%. The NHTSA also noted that rear-end accidents accounted for around 7% of all accident fatalities and 31.1% of injuries in 2019. Sadly, by 2021, rear-end accidents were responsible for 7.5% of all fatal car crashes, up 0.5% from only two years before.

As rear-end accidents continue to increase, it’s important to learn as much as we can about them so we can avoid becoming one of those unfortunate statistics in the future.

Where do most rear-end crashes occur?

Rear-end car accidents most often occur at a red light, a stop sign, or in heavy traffic. Most of these crashes happen at low speeds or even when a vehicle is at a complete stop; in fact, approximately 81 percent of rear-end accidents accounted for in the 2015 NHTSA study occurred when the front vehicle was completely stopped. In most of these collisions, the driver was following too closely to the car in front of it. The study also revealed that:

  • Most rear-end collisions occur on dry, straight, and level roads during daytime hours.
  • In nearly half of rear-end collisions, the driver following the vehicle failed to react to the stopped/slowed vehicle because that driver was distracted or not paying attention.
  • Driver distraction– whether from cell phone use, eating, conversing with a passenger, or daydreaming- was responsible for about 90 percent of rear-end collisions.

Who gets the most impact in a rear-end collision?

The driver in the front car who is rear-ended generally receives the most impact and suffers more injuries than the driver of the rear vehicle. While injury severity varies depending on the speed of the vehicle(s), even minor collisions at slow speeds can result in a significant amount of damage.

A quick physics lesson: When one vehicle collides with another from behind, the momentum from the rear vehicle shifts to the front car as well as the front car driver’s body. If the front car is at a complete stop or is traveling at a slower speed than the car that hits it from behind, the sudden impact can be devastating. A vehicle traveling at 15 miles per hour, or even 10, may not seem like much, but when there’s a collision, those 10 or 15 miles per hour of momentum transfer directly to the human body upon impact. And that impact forcibly jerks the vehicle and the driver very suddenly. If the driver is wearing a seatbelt (as he or she should be!), the body snaps back toward the seat just as quickly–and that’s when head and spinal injuries occur.

Unfortunately, most drivers who are rear-ended are not expecting the impact, so there’s no time to brace for it. Because of that, the head snaps forward and then backward quite violently, which can cause a variety of spinal injuries. Conversely, the driver of the rear vehicle is more likely to see the oncoming impact early enough to brace for it, leaving them less susceptible to serious injury.

What is the leading cause of rear-end collisions in the US?

Although the mechanical failure of a motor vehicle can cause a rear-end collision, the most common causes of rear-end collisions are human error, and the driver in the rear vehicle is most often at fault and/or liable for damages. The primary cause of rear-end collisions in the United States is distracted driving. So much so that distracted driving actually killed 3,522 people in 2021.

Distracted driving covers any activity that takes a driver’s attention away from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating or drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, and adjusting the radio/entertainment system or navigation system. Texting is the worst offense. According to the NHTSA, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. A startling comparison from the NHTSA: Moving at 55 mph while texting is like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. And that is a recipe for disaster.

What increases the chances of a rear-end collision?

Driving distracted is not the only cause of rear-end crashes, though it is the most egregious. Here are other factors that increase the chances of a rear-end collision:

    1. Following a vehicle too closely. Drivers who follow too closely are one of the main causes of rear-end crashes. The recommendation is for passenger vehicles to maintain a three-second following distance. Larger vehicles, such as trucks, should keep about twice the following distance of cars since they require more time to come to a stop.
    2. Speeding. The faster you drive, the harder it is to stop quickly, especially in unfavorable weather and road conditions. Speeding also increases the odds that you will be tailgating other cars, which, as you know from point #1, can increase your risk of rear-ending another vehicle.
    3. Fatigue. It’s best not to get behind the wheel if you’re tired. Fatigue and drowsiness increase your chances of nodding off and falling asleep while driving, which reduces your ability to see and react.
  • Driving while impaired. It’s stating the obvious that driving while impaired, intoxicated, or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs greatly increases the chances of being involved in a rear-end crash. Drugs and alcohol can dramatically slow down reaction times, leaving an impaired driver with less opportunity to avoid a potential collision.
  • Road rage. There are plenty of angry drivers out there. And when a driver becomes angry at the vehicle in front of them, that driver grows quite aggressive and reckless, especially regarding tailgating. That leaves the angry driver very little time to stop if there is a stop sign, a red light, or traffic.
  • Heavy traffic. If you’ve driven on the Beltway, you know all about heavy traffic. You know that this traffic stops, then goes, then stops suddenly again. The constant stop-and-go itself can increase the chances of a rear-end crash. But so does the boredom, fatigue, and anger you experience when sitting in heavy traffic. That can lead to distracted driving, drowsiness, and road rage.
  • Broken brake lights. Drivers rely on the vehicle in front of them to know when to stop or slow down. The best indicator is a vehicle’s bright red brake lights. However, brake lights fade or malfunction like other car parts, and that leaves drivers behind a vehicle with broken brake lights at a disadvantage. The extra split second required to recognize that the vehicle is slowing or stopping–without being able to judge by the brake lights–is enough to cause a rear-end collision.

Common Rear-End Accident Injuries

The most common rear-end accident injuries include:

  • Neck and shoulder strains (commonly referred to by the insurance industry and its allies as “whiplash”)
  • Headaches (as a result of the sudden thrust of the neck against the headrest) and concussions
  • Soft-tissue injuries
  • Fractures
  • Spine and back injuries
  • Seatbelt injuries
  • Injuries to the face, wrists, and arms

If you have been in a rear-end accident, seek medical treatment immediately. If you have sustained a soft-tissue injury, it is possible that you won’t notice symptoms until a few days later. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment, even if you don’t think the accident or injuries are severe. Injuries from a rear-end accident can be lifelong – and getting medical treatment immediately can help tremendously.

What to Do if You Are Injured in a Rear-End Accident

You need to take specific steps if you are involved in a rear-end car accident.

  1. Your health and safety are most important, so check for injuries immediately after your car accident. Some injuries that seem small can develop into something more severe, so don’t hesitate to request an ambulance to the accident scene to ensure you get prompt medical treatment and get checked out by a medical doctor. You must get to the doctor fast; if you don’t, the at-fault driver’s insurance company could attempt to reduce a settlement offer because they view the lapse of time between treatments as proof that injuries are minimal (even if they are NOT minimal and regardless of the pain and suffering you are enduring).
  2. Next, exchange information with the other driver. Be sure to get their name, address, phone number, and insurance information, and give them your information as well. Once you get their information, take just a few seconds to snap a photo of it with your mobile phone. This ensures you will always have a copy available.
  3. If it’s safe, try to snap a few photos of the accident, capturing the placement of the vehicles, weather conditions, skid marks, and any damages.
  4. Additionally, you’ll want to get the names and contact information of any witnesses who may have seen the accident occur and take a picture of the license plate number of the car that struck you.
  5. Just as important as the tips above, do not speak to insurance companies until you receive guidance from your lawyer. Odds are the insurance companies will offer to handle the legalities and will offer you a settlement that will likely not provide the compensation you’ll need to cover medical bills, lost wages, and possibly even funeral expenses. Remember, insurance companies are in business to make money. Offering you a large settlement is not in the best interest of their bottom lines, so they’ll likely try to get you to settle for less than what you deserve.

Get in Touch with Experienced Rear-End Car Accident Attorneys in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia

Finally, contact an expert rear-end accident lawyer to give yourself the best chance at protecting your interests. A rear-end accident lawyer will act in your best interests to inform you of your rights. At the Lapidus Law Firm, we aim to obtain a fair, reasonable settlement on your behalf. We understand that you are under a lot of stress while working toward injury recovery and managing other issues surrounding the accident. We want to remove some of that pressure and communicate with the other party and the insurance companies on your behalf. Call us at (202) 785-5111 or (301) 852-7500 to set up a free, no-obligation consultation.