Rear-end collisions happen when a car or truck strikes the rear of another vehicle. These crashes are common. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 2.175 million rear-end collisions occurred in 2020. This makes rear-end collisions the most common types of car accidents.

Here are some of the things that you should know about rear-end collisions and the injuries they produce.

Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions pose a major risk to drivers and passengers. The occupants of the front vehicle often have no warning of the impending car accident. As a result, they are unable to brace themselves or take evasive action to reduce the severity of the crash.

What Happens in Rear-End Collisions?

When one vehicle strikes another from behind, the collision transfers an enormous amount of energy from one vehicle to another. The kinetic energy of the rear vehicle depends on its mass and velocity. Heavier vehicles and those traveling at high speeds will transfer more energy during the collision than lighter vehicles or those traveling slowly. This is one reason that a rear-end collision involving a semi-truck can be particularly devastating.

As the energy transfer occurs, the front vehicle lurches forward before coming to a stop. This also causes the rear vehicle to rapidly decelerate. Some of the energy of the collision crushes the metal and plastic of the two vehicles. Much of the energy also goes toward throwing the occupants of both vehicles backward and forward.

Common Injuries in Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions produce a predictable set of injuries. These injuries result from two principles of physics. The first principle is that an object at rest will remain at rest until acted on by a force. If the front vehicle is stopped, it will naturally want to remain stopped. When the rear vehicle rams it from behind, the occupants are pushed back into their seats. This can create enormous stress on the back and neck.

Once the vehicle is thrust into motion, the second physics principle comes into play. An object in motion will remain in motion until acted on by a force. The occupants of the front vehicle are now moving forward. As the car comes to a stop after the collision, the occupants continue moving forward until stopped by the seat belts, airbags, the dashboard, the windshield, or other structures in the car. This can lead to additional injuries to the neck, chest, and head.

The injuries most commonly seen in rear-end collisions involve these forces. These may include:

Neck Injuries

As the body is pushed forward and backward, the muscles of the neck strain to hold the head from whipping back and forth. This muscle strain, called whiplash, occurs in many rear-end collisions.

The motion of the head pulling on the neck can also stretch and compress the neck, causing intervertebral discs to slip out of place, compress, or even rupture. This damage to the discs can produce severe, lifelong spinal cord injuries as the discs compress the nerves into the spinal column.

Back Injuries

A rear-end collision can also strain the muscles of the back or damage the vertebrae or discs. As the vehicles collide, the seat and seat belt transmit enormous forces to the body, leading to a back injury. The back can experience severe trauma as the body is whipped back and forth by these forces.

Head Injuries

As the car comes to a stop, the head may collide with the airbag, dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. The resulting head injury can include bruises, cuts, broken teeth, or fractured facial bones.

Brain Injuries

A head injury can lead to a brain injury as the brain sloshes inside the skull. The pressure of the fluid inside the skull can cause a concussion. If the brain strikes the inside of the skull, the brain may develop a contusion.

Chest Injuries

A seat belt might save your life. But a seat belt can also cause bruising or even a broken rib or collarbone as it restrains you.

Knee Injuries

Your knees could strike the dashboard. This may tear ligaments, tendons, or cartilage inside the knee.

These injuries can range from minor to fatal. After you have been involved in a rear-end collision, you should consider seeking medical help to diagnose and treat any injuries you have suffered.

How Rear-End Collisions Happen

Rear-end collisions often come from some of the most common and dangerous driving habits. 

Some of the ways rear-end collisions can occur include:

  • Distracted Driving:  Driving requires constant attention. A glance at a cell phone can lead to a rear-end collision as your vehicle slams into a vehicle in front of it.
  • Speeding:  Excessive speed, particularly in poor conditions, can make it impossible to brake in time to avoid a rear-end collision.
  • Aggressive Driving:  Aggressive driving habits, such as tailgating and cutting off other vehicles, can lead to rear-end collisions.
  • Intoxicated Driving:  Falling asleep at the wheel and slowed reaction times can result from intoxication. Both can lead to a rear-end collision.

Other factors in rear-end collisions can include poor visibility, slick pavement, and wildlife on roads.

Establishing Liability for a Rear-End Collision

Maryland is an “at-fault” state when it comes to insurance liability. This means that the driver responsible for causing the accident must pay for the damage resulting from the accident. If they have insurance, their provider would be on the hook (up to the at-fault driver’s policy limits, of course). To establish liability, you and your lawyer will need to show that the driver was negligent.

Negligence requires four elements:

  • Duty:  A driver must act in a reasonably prudent manner, including observing traffic laws.
  • Breach:  A driver breaches the duty by driving unreasonably.
  • Damage: The person filing the claim must have suffered an injury or other damage.
  • Causation:  The damage was caused by the driver’s breach.

In a rear-end collision, the driver of the rear vehicle is almost always at fault. The driver of the rear vehicle has a responsibility to leave enough space to stop safely. Whether the cause was speeding, tailgating, or distraction, the driver of the rear vehicle usually did something to cause the accident.

If the driver of the rear vehicle was cited in the accident, the citation is powerful evidence that the driver acted negligently. In Maryland, a citation is evidence — but not conclusive evidence — that can be considered by a jury.