According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over two million rear-end collisions occur across the United States each year. Several thousand occur in California, some of which lead to severe and fatal injuries.
The NHTSA reports that about one out of three traffic crashes are rear-end collisions, making them the most common type of traffic accident. Northern California’s traffic might not be as bad as the other half of the state, but it’s busy enough to lead to these common crashes.
Many assume the driver in the rear is automatically liable for a California rear-end collision, but this is not always the case. Regardless, rear-end collisions are preventable and often occur because of reckless or inattentive driving. If you suffered injuries in a California rear-end collision, you should meet with a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options to recover compensation.
Until you meet with an experienced car accident attorney, we provide a closer look at rear-end collisions, their causes, common injuries associated with them, and liability issues related to these types of crashes.
Rear-end Collision Data Trends
The high frequency of rear-end collisions in California and throughout the nation makes them a popular research subject for state and federal agencies. Research from the NHTSA offers driver demographics and the road, weather, and traffic conditions in which rear-end collisions most often happen.
Here are some data trends about rear-end crashes that emerge from the research:
- Young drivers, especially teens, are more likely to cause a rear-end collision. As drivers get older, they are less likely to cause a rear-end collision.
- Young male drivers are more likely to cause a rear-end crash than females of all ages.
- Distracted driving factors into over 85 percent of rear-end collisions throughout the nation.
- Most rear drivers do not follow too closely, so tailgating is not as prevalent in rear-end collisions as the general public believes.
- Most rear-end collisions happen when the front vehicle is in heavy traffic or stopped at a controlled intersection, making cities in Northern California more prone to rear-end collisions than rural areas.
- Most rear-end collisions occur during clear weather, contrary to the popular belief that these crashes mostly occur in rain, sleet, and snow.
Causes of California Rear-end Collisions
Car troubles and poor weather conditions can contribute to rear-end collisions in Northern California. However, driver negligence still plays a role as the primary cause of the crash.
Common negligent driving behaviors that lead to rear-end collisions in California include:
#1. Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is the top cause of rear-end collisions throughout California and the United States. California has strict laws that prevent motorists from using cell phones and other handheld devices while driving. However, some motorists ignore the law.
Distracted driving includes more than cell phone use; any activity that interferes with the manual, visual, or cognitive operation of a motor vehicle falls under the umbrella of distracted driving.
Certain activities interfere in more than one area. For example, texting and driving are among the most dangerous distracted driver behaviors because it serves as a manual, visual and cognitive distraction.
A glance at a text message or taking time to respond can cause a rear-end collision if the driver does not react to the vehicle in front of them. Texting and driving are especially dangerous in heavy traffic during rush hour.
Examples of other common distractions that sometimes lead to rear-end collisions include:
- Adjusting vehicle features, such as seats, radio, A/C, heat, or moonroofs
- Tending to backseat passengers, often small children
- Reaching for items in the backseat or on the floor
- Intense conversations with other vehicle occupants
- Applying makeup, combing hair, and other personal grooming habits
- Daydreaming or heavy contemplation
- Focusing on another event outside the vehicle, often another accident
Distracted drivers cannot react appropriately to the vehicle in front of them, especially in heavy traffic or at a stoplight or stop sign.
Speeding is not always the direct cause of a rear-end collision, but it is often a major contributing factor to rear-end collisions.
Drivers have many reasons to avoid speeding, but two increase the likelihood of rear-end crashes.
- First, drivers who are going too fast for road or weather conditions or traveling over the posted speed limit cannot always avoid a crash, even if they try. Speeding makes it more difficult to drivers to control their vehicles in critical situations.
- Second, the distance it takes for a vehicle to stop or slow down increases with the speed at which a vehicle travels. This makes it difficult to avoid a rear-end crash if a driver applies the brakes too late.
#3. Poor Vehicle Maintenance
California’s roads and highways are full of millions of vehicles, old and new alike. Unfortunately, not all vehicle owners maintain their cars, trucks, and SUVs. Motor vehicles that are not in roadworthy condition can experience mechanical breakdowns that cause severe and fatal car accidents, some of which are rear-ended collisions.
The most common maintenance issue that leads to rear-end collisions is failed brakes. Drivers who fail to inspect their brakes and replace pads, change brake fluid, and replace rotors risk brake failure at critical times. Failed brakes almost guarantee a rear-end collision, especially at controlled intersections and in heavy traffic.
Trucking companies can also be responsible for poor truck maintenance. Federal law requires them to perform regular truck maintenance on braking systems, transmission systems, and other critical systems. Brake failure, transmission failure, and other mechanical issues can lead to a rear-end collision involving a heavy truck, which often causes catastrophic or fatal injuries for those in the front vehicle.
#4. Drunk Driving
Drivers learn about the dangers of consuming alcohol and getting behind the wheel before they get their driver’s license. Yet, many drivers choose to operate their vehicles under the influence of alcohol. Whether residents of Northern California stop for a drink or two after work or drive home after a night out celebrating, they put others who share the road at risk for accidents and injuries.
Alcohol slows a driver’s capacity to process the information they need to react to traffic signals and other vehicles appropriately. Even when drunk drivers notice a car in front of them is slowing down, they might be too impaired to stop in time to avoid a crash.
#5. Fatigued Driving
Driver fatigue also impacts a driver’s ability to react swiftly and appropriately to other vehicles on the road. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)-the federal agency that regulates the trucking industry-has studied the relationship between sleep and driving.
Their research shows that drivers who go without sleep for 18 hours suffer from the same level of impairment as drivers with a breath or blood alcohol level of 0.08.
Northern California is famous for its thriving agriculture industry. Agricultural workers and truck drivers who work in the industry are two examples of people at high risk for drowsy or fatigued driving. Long hours, demanding schedules, and shift work cause short-term drowsiness and long-term fatigue when people do not get the rest they need before getting behind the wheel.
Injuries in Rear-end Collisions
Traffic accidents cause various injuries that range from minor bumps and bruises to catastrophic injuries that prevent people from returning to work or engaging in many of the activities they did before an accident. However, many injuries strongly correlate with certain types of traffic crashes.
Those involved in rear-end collisions suffer from a wide range of injuries. Their severity hinges on the speed at which the following vehicle struck the lead vehicle, the location of the injured inside a vehicle, and whether the person wore a seatbelt.
Here are some examples of injuries that often occur in rear-end collisions:
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissues in the human body primarily refer to muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The trauma of a rear-end collision causes a body to rapidly move back and forth, with high-speed impacts causing stronger movements. Depending on the exact circumstances of the rear-end crash, some people might tear a muscle or tendon when it stretches too far.
Seatbelts prevent some injury because they restrict movement in the chest and torso. However, rear-end collision victims face soft tissue injuries in the neck, often called whiplash.
Sprains and strains are the most common injuries, and they often heal quickly with proper rest and care. More severe soft tissue injuries sometimes require surgery and/or cause permanent damage, leaving victims with chronic pain and discomfort.
Back and Neck Injuries
Many injuries from rear-end collisions occur in the neck and back. Unfortunately, many of these injuries go beyond simple sprains and strains of their soft tissue, especially in the most severe rear-end crashes. The strong back-and-forth movement fractures vertebrae, causes bulged discs, and sometimes leads to debilitating spinal cord injuries.
Regardless of the location of a back or neck injury along the spinal column, many rear-end accident victims cope with chronic, lifelong pain after a back or neck injury. Sometimes one or more surgeries alleviate some of the pain, but surgery typically does not eliminate pain. Victims must struggle to find comfort while lying down, sitting, and standing for the rest of their lives.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
The same motion that causes back and neck injuries in a rear-end crash also can cause an indirect traumatic brain injury (TBI). The jolt of the impact causes the brain to move back and forth inside the skull, causing injury.
In the most severe rear-end crashes, drivers sometimes hit their heads on the steering column, and passengers hit their heads on the dashboard or seat in front of them. These direct traumas also lead to brain injuries.
TBIs have many symptoms, some of which never go away. Victims can have difficulties with various body functions, such as cognition, motor skills, senses, communication, and emotional regulation. The exact symptoms and long-term effects depend on the location of the head trauma and the severity of the TBI. The most severe TBIs can leave victims in a coma or permanent vegetative state.
Liability in California Rear-end Collisions
Determining liability after a traffic accident is not always easy for law enforcement and investigators. However, rear-end collisions are typically easier to interpret and place fault. In most cases involving a rear-end collision, the driver in the rear who struck the front vehicle will be financially liable for damages related to the accident and associated injuries. Often, one or more of the causes above lead to the accident.
However, insurance companies do not like to pay claims, so they will wholeheartedly fight the assumption that the rear driver is at fault. They will use every strategy possible to question the assumption of fault to make a lower power payout or deny acclaim.
Examples of strategies the insurance company or their legal team might use to undermine the assumption that the rear driver is at fault include arguing that:
- You made erratic or sudden movements that made it impossible for the rear driver to avoid a collision.
- You succumbed to one or more driving distractions, including cell phone use, eating, grooming, etc.
- You were driving aggressively or suffered from road rage, and you purposefully hit your brakes to cause a rear-end collision.
- You broke one or more traffic laws that led to the collision.
- You were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- You had preexisting injuries, and the rear-end collision was not the cause of your injuries.
- The accused driver in the rear car was not the person operating the vehicle when it hit you.
If you suffered injuries in a rear-end collision, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. It’s not automatic that the driver who struck you is at fault.
Let an experienced car accident lawyer deal with tricky insurance company tactics and help you fight to get compensation for your injuries.