There is a common misconception that rear-end collisions are minor accidents, resulting in minor injuries. That may be true in a few lucky instances, but it is not always true. These crashes happen in an instant. In addition to property damage, rear-end crashes can severely injure those involved. Also, the nature and extent of the injuries are not always immediately apparent. In some cases, it is evident that the injured person needs immediate medical treatment. However, an accident victim may walk away feeling unhurt only to discover injuries later.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that rear-end collisions are the most prevalent type of car accident, accounting for about 2.5 million rear-end collisions each year. Drivers often become complacent and unaware of the danger right in front of them. If there is a consistent gap between a car and the one in front, the driver may not worry. Then when a driver glances away, only for a second, the car in front brakes unexpectedly, and an accident happens.
What Is A Rear-End Collision?
Rear-end accidents happen when the front bumper of one vehicle hits the back end of another vehicle. People often refer to these accidents as “fender benders” and consider them fairly minor accidents. However, even when a rear-end collision happens at a low speed, the result may be serious injuries. A crash between vehicles traveling as slowly as five mph can leave 10 percent of vehicle occupants with whiplash.
Causes of Rear-End Collisions
Basically, anything that distracts a driver or impedes their judgment is a hazard. All a driver has to do is take their eyes off of what is going on in front of them for a fleeting second, and they are unaware that the driver in front of them needs to put on the brakes.
According to data from the NHTSA Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study on car accidents, including rear-end collisions, research showed:
- Unsurprisingly, in most instances, the driver in the back was tailgating or following the car in front too closely.
- In approximately half of the rear-end crashes, the driver in the back was not paying attention and, therefore, did not react appropriately when a vehicle in front slowed or stopped. Many happened when the vehicle in front was at a complete stop.
- Distracted driving caused approximately 90 percent of rear-end crashes.
- Most rear-end collisions happened in the daylight, on roads that were straight and dry.
- Male drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 were the most likely demographic in rear-end crashes.
Typical causes of rear-end collisions include:
- Following Too Closely. Following too closely, also known as tailgating, is a common cause of rear-end accidents. To maintain a safe following distance, most experts recommend that drivers follow a common-sense rule called the two-second rule. It means that a driver should ideally stay at least two seconds behind any vehicle directly in front of them. During adverse weather conditions or in the event of other hazards, drivers should maintain an even greater distance. Unfortunately, many drivers ignore the two-second rule and follow the car in front too closely. Then the driver cannot avoid a rear-end crash when needing to make a sudden stop.
- Distracted Driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in the United States involve a distracted driver. Distracted driving may involve cognitive, visual, or manual distractions. Cognitive distraction means that you are mentally detached from what you are doing or simply not paying attention. In the case of a visual distraction, your eyes wander off the road, perhaps to retrieve something from the floor or check your GPA. Manual distraction involves using your hands to do anything other than drive, such as eating or changing the radio station. The NHTSA states that cell phone use while driving is especially dangerous.
- Speeding. When someone drives faster than the speed limit, they are speeding. They are also speeding if they are going too fast for road or weather conditions. If a speeding driver comes upon sudden, slow traffic, they generally cannot stop in time to avoid a rear-end collision. In some accidents, the speeding driver hits the car in front and sets off a chain reaction of crashes.
- Driving Under the Influence. Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can affect a driver’s skill and judgment, leading to a crash.
- Fatigue. Similar to driving under the influence, driving while fatigued or drowsy can greatly increase the risk of a crash. Drowsy driving slows down your reaction time and affects your perception and judgment, all of which is a risk when the vehicle ahead stops or slows.
- Faulty Brakes or Other Mechanical Defects. If a car is unable to stop due to malfunctioning brakes, a rear-end collision is inevitable. In the event of a mechanical defect, a manufacturer or repair facility may have some liability, but the driver may also be responsible if they fail to properly maintain the vehicle.
Types Of Injuries
According to the NHTSA data, more than 2,000 rear-end collisions cause fatalities, and more than half a million result in injuries every year. The type and severity of rear-end accident injuries depend on many factors, such as speed, the victim’s body position, and other circumstances of the accident. Often, the spine, muscles, and tendons of the injured person brace for impact, which may damage the skeletal structure and nerves.
Common injuries resulting from a rear-end collision include:
- Whiplash. Most people have heard of whiplash but may not truly understand it. Whiplash happens when the head is forcefully propelled forward and backward in a rear-end crash. The injury can cause a concussion, muscle damage, and stretched tendons, as well as spinal and nerve damage. Conditions such as herniated disc, facet joint injury, or neck fracture may require extensive medical treatment. Signs and symptoms usually become apparent within days and may include neck pain and stiffness; loss of motion in the neck; headaches; pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms; and tingling or numbness in the arms.
- Head Trauma. If a person’s head strikes the headrest, steering wheel, window, or airbag during a crash, the force of the blow could cause a concussion or other type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). There is a wide range of severity in traumatic brain injuries, and, like whiplash, the symptoms may not be apparent for several days. Symptoms of TBI may include headaches, loss of consciousness, vertigo, extreme fatigue, memory loss, mood swings, vision or speech issues, or impaired cognitive function. Even if the injury is mild, 15 percent of people will continue to have problems after a year or more. The effects of a severe brain injury may be catastrophic. The injured person may suffer cognitive, behavioral, and physical disabilities. Those in a minimally responsive state, or a coma, may need lifelong care.
- Back Injuries. People often suffer back injuries in a rear-end collision. When a rear-end crash occurs, a person’s middle and lower back moves suddenly back and forth. This movement disrupts and flattens the natural curve of the spine.
- Paralysis. During a rear-end collision, the impact may damage the spinal cord. This damage disrupts the process of sending messages to the muscle tissue, so muscle function is lost. The injured person may be partially or completely paralyzed, depending on the nature and location of the paralysis. For example, an injury to the cervical spine (immediately below the neck) during a car accident can often result in quadriplegia, the inability to move the arms and the legs.
- Soft Tissue Damage. Soft tissue injuries involve non-bony parts of the body, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and even fats. Such injuries are common in car accidents because the body is thrown around, resulting in sprains, strains, tears, and soreness. Soft tissue body parts have a vital function. They hold the body together and help it move and work. Soft tissue damage can be dangerous because it often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
- Fractures. Broken bones are one of the most common injuries suffered in car accidents. In rear-end car accidents, drivers and passengers often brace for impact. As a result, they may suffer breaks in their hands, wrists, arms, feet, knees, or legs. Although seat belts are an important life-saving device, victims may suffer fractures in their spine or rib cage due to seat belts. Some broken bones may limit mobility or require surgery to heal properly.
- Disfigurement or Facial Scars. During a collision, a victim’s face may be cut by broken glass, dashboard fragments, or hit the airbag, resulting in cuts or burns that cause permanent scarring and disfigurement. Common injuries include burns, lacerations, facial deformities, or eye injuries. Facial issues are often painful and may require long-term medical treatment, including expensive surgical reconstructive procedures. Even with the best possible treatment, those with facial injuries may be left with scars that affect their appearance for the rest of their lives.
- Fatalities. According to a study published by the International Research Council on the Biomechanics of Injury, approximately 75 percent of all fatalities caused by rear-end collisions happened due to the collapse of the compartment of the vehicle in front. Occupants sitting in the back seat of the vehicle in front are in danger of being injured or fatally crushed in a rear collision accident.
What Qualifies As A Serious Injury?
Florida is one of 12 no-fault states, which simply means that injured parties must seek compensation through their own insurance. However, many no-fault states have unique laws that vary greatly from state to state. For example, Florida has a “serious injury threshold,” so the type and severity of the injury may affect the injured person’s legal remedy.
According to the statute, Fla. Stat. Ann. Section 627.737:
[A] plaintiff may recover damages in tort for pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease arising out of the ownership, maintenance, operation, or use of such motor vehicle only if the injury or disease consists in whole or in part of:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
If the injuries do not meet Florida’s threshold, the victim will only be able to file a claim for benefits through his or her own insurance provider. If the losses do not exceed $10,000, the injured person is bound to the no-fault option and cannot collect damages for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering.
Determining Fault After A Rear-End Accident
In a rear-end collision, most people assume the driver who rear-ends the other driver is at fault. While this is generally the case, fault in a rear-end accident is not always simple. The rear driver is not automatically responsible for a rear-end collision.
Fault depends on the circumstances. For example, the driver in front may bear responsibility if they suddenly reversed without checking behind them.
What Do You Need To Know About Rear-End Collision Injuries?
Injuries sustained from a rear-end collision may not immediately appear. Many car accident victims experience a surge of adrenaline in the moments after an accident, which may mask pain or symptoms so that they believe they were not injured. Signs and symptoms of an injury may take hours or even days to show up.
That is why you must seek medical treatment immediately after being hit in a rear-end impact. Accurate diagnosis and prompt, effective treatment may avoid worsening injuries or complications.
All accidents and the resulting injuries are different. Some injuries demand more intensive medical treatment than others, which may have an impact on the injured person’s future. All claims and lawsuits must be filed within certain deadlines, called the statute of limitations.
For more information or a free case evaluation, call an experienced Tampa, FL car accident lawyer today.