Rear-End Car Accident Guide

Approximately 1.7 million rear end collisions occur in the United States each year, making them the most common type of motor vehicle accident. Seventeen thousand Americans lose their lives annually, and 500,000 more are seriously injured due to rear end crashes. The types of injuries sustained during a rear end collision are often severe in nature, threatening the lives and financial security of impacted drivers and their families.

A rear end accident occurs when a rear-striking vehicle hits the vehicle directly in front of it from behind. Most often during these collisions, the struck vehicle is stopped, while the striking vehicle is moving at a high rate of speed. This makes the velocity of the impact particularly dangerous because drivers rarely have the opportunity to avoid the crash by practicing defensive driving techniques or to brace themselves for impact.

Speed is frequently the determinant factor in regard to the amount of damage to vehicles and the severity of injuries sustained by drivers and passengers. Higher speeds cause greater damage to property and persons.

According to The National Law Review, rear end collisions account for approximately 29 percent of all traffic accidents where serious injury or death is the outcome. The Insurance Information Institute found that rear end crashes are responsible for more than seven percent of all traffic-related fatalities and 20 percent of fatalities in wrecks involving two vehicles.


The vast majority of rear end accidents are caused by driver negligence. While operating a motor vehicle, a driver assumes a duty of care to the safety of others on the roadway. Drivers are not only required follow stated traffic laws, but are also expected to be able to navigate variables like traffic and weather conditions and make sound judgements and decisions based on road conditions. This could include reducing rate of speed where appropriate and allowing additional space between vehicles to maximize reaction time.

Some of the most common rear end collision scenarios include the following:

  • A vehicle rolls forward at a traffic light or stop sign at a low rate of speed and taps into the car in front of it.
  • Traffic slows in the roadway ahead before a driver notices in enough time to react.
  • A rear-striking driver fails to notice that the vehicle in front of him or her is signaling to make a turn and crashes into it.
  • A driver fails to notice a stopped vehicle in the roadway and hits it from behind at a high rate of speed.
  • One vehicle speeds through a traffic signal, assuming the car ahead will do the same.
  • A driver assumes the vehicle in front of them will hit the gas as soon as the light turns green, and accelerates into the back of it.
  • The rear-striking vehicle is traveling faster than the vehicle in front, and they collide while both vehicles are in motion.

Risk Factors

A 2003 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that age and gender are correlating factors in rear end crashes. In the study, drivers under the age of 18 were more likely to be involved in a rear end accident as the striker of another vehicle. After age 18, the risk drops slightly, and then drops again more significantly after the age of 24. However, the likelihood of being involved in a rear end accident increases after 69 when reaction times begin to slow with advancing age.

In addition to age, gender was positively correlated with rear end accidents. Males drivers were more liable to find themselves involved in this type of crash than female drivers. Drivers who were both young and male were more likely to be in the striking role in rear end collisions than their female counterparts of the same age.

Behaviors that increase the risk of being involved in a rear end accident include:

  • Tailgating or following too closely-Not leaving space between vehicles decreases a driver’s reaction time in the event that a hazard enters the roadway or a car in front stops suddenly.
  • Distracted driving-Drivers using cell phones, playing with the radio, eating, drinking, smoking, applying makeup or otherwise engaged in any activity that requires them to remove their attention from the road ahead account for a significant number of rear end collisions each year.
  • Failure to obey traffic laws- Failing to slow down at yellow traffic signals or stop on red can lead to a rear end crash when the car ahead brakes to comply with traffic laws.
  • Driving too fast for road conditions- When rain, snow, ice or construction impacts road surfaces or flow of traffic, it’s a driver’s responsibility to adapt to the conditions present by adjusting his or her rate of speed and increasing following distance between vehicles.
  • Vehicle or maintenance failure- Faulty brakes or brake lights that don’t work can lead to rear end wrecks. Have vehicles regularly inspected to be sure everything is in working order. Vehicle maintenance is considered the responsibility of the driver in situations where accidents do occur.
  • Driver error- Mistakes made by the driver, such as accidentally pressing the gas instead of the brake pedal contribute to some rear end crashes. Wear appropriate footwear, including shoes with dry soles while operating a motor vehicle to prevent feet from slipping off of one pedal onto another.


Most often in rear end collisions, the striking driver is found to be at fault. There are some exceptions to that rule, where the struck driver may share fault for the accident as well, including:

  • The struck driver suddenly slams on his or her brakes without warning for no discernable reason.
  • The struck driver puts his or her vehicle in reverse while occupying the roadway.
  • The struck driver’s brake lights fail.
  • The struck driver fails to signal before making a turn.

In these situations, the struck driver is still able to file a claim against the striking driver to recover damages, but the total amount of damages they can recover is often reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if the struck driver is found to be 30 percent at fault for a rear end collision, they will only be able to recover 70 percent of the determined damages.


Rear end accidents are easily preventable. Drivers should leave space between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them any time they are in motion. The three-second rule is a common way to gauge the amount of space required for sufficient reaction time in the event that a vehicle needs to stop suddenly. Keep the equivalent of three seconds of space between vehicles to maintain a safe following distance.

Checking the rearview mirror frequently, especially when a vehicle brakes or comes to a stop, can allow a driver to anticipate potential hazards at the rear of the vehicle and give another driver the space he or she needs to react before colliding from behind.

Drivers should avoid distractions that divert their full attention from the road ahead, including reaching into the backseat, turning to talk to a passenger or talking and texting on handheld devices. Many phone carriers offer apps that allow users to silence text messages and alerts while a car is in motion to remove the temptation of picking up.

Applying brakes early and slowly allows the driver behind a vehicle to see that it’s slowing down. Keep brake lights and turn signals in good working order, and monitor driving and road conditions for hazards like construction zones, icy patches, and animals crossing traffic. Watch out for pedestrians and motorcycles, which can be more difficult to see than cars and trucks, to avoid the need to slam on the brakes.

In the winter, keep windshields clear of snow, ice, and other debris for improved visibility. Maintaining a safe following distance from vehicles ahead allows a driver to visualize potential hazards they may encounter.


The consequences of being involved in a rear end accident can be far-reaching, impacting daily physical function, emotional health and financial security. Drivers injured in a rear end collision may be able to recover damages resulting from another driver’s negligence.

A personal injury attorney can explain the litigation process, help determine if a case exists, and determine the extent of damages accrued due to a rear end crash. Medical compensation, missed wages and benefits, and property damage to vehicles are examples of some of the financial burdens claimants may find themselves saddled with after a collision.

Claimants may also be able to receive compensation for personal pain and suffering in cases where mental and emotional distress occurred as a direct result of the accident. This type of compensation is assessed in punitive damages and awarded by a court.

Avoid accepting compensation following an accident until after a full accounting can be made of the damages to person and property. An experienced personal injury attorney will see that no stone is left unturned and fight for the compensation that his or her client deserves.

Hiring an Injury Attorney

Personal injury litigation following a rear end collision can feel like a massive undertaking. Consider the following before hiring an attorney:

  • In personal injury law, experience is important. The success of a case may hinge on the experience and background an attorney has in the field. Ask about past successful personal injury litigation.
  • Attorneys who solicit the business of injured drivers directly after an accident occurs are behaving unethically. A professional attorney won’t take advantage of a clients’ vulnerabilities and will speak with a claimant when he or she is ready to proceed.
  • Speak with a potential attorney directly to determine if he or she is the right person to handle the case in question. A seasoned personal injury lawyer will answer questions and offer sound advice without making grandiose promises.
  • Few claimants have cash on hand to pursue a personal injury suit, which can be costly and time consuming. Consequently, attorneys will often agree to take a case for a percentage of any settlements awarded to their clients. Be sure to understand how and when the attorney expects to be compensated.

When bills are piling up as a result of a rear end accident, a personal injury settlement can’t restore health or property, but it can ease the burden of financial uncertainty and allow for time to heal without the weight of worry.

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