According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) nearly half of all traffic accidents involve a rear end accident. Given the sheer number of times a rear end car accident occurs, it is important to know what it is, how fault is determined, who is at fault when it happens, and how to avoid it. This article will help answer those questions.
WHAT IS A REAR END AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT?
A rear end automobile accident, also called a rear end crash, happens when a vehicle in back (the rear vehicle) hits the back of the vehicle in front of it (the front vehicle). It does not matter if either vehicle involved is a car, truck or motorcycle. If one runs into the back of the other, it is considered a rear end auto accident. It also does not matter how many cars, trucks, or motorcycles are involved. In fact, many times rear end crashes involve more than just two vehicles. This type of multi car crash is more common on highways and freeways.
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HOW IS FAULT DETERMINED IN A REAR END CAR ACCIDENT?
In a rear end auto accident, just like any other type of car accident, the concept of negligence is used to determine fault. Negligence is usually defined as the failure to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury to another person. So, in a rear end auto accident, negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to avoid causing injury while driving. Reasonable care means paying attention while driving, not posing a risk to other drivers, and anticipating that vehicles in front of you may have to come to a stop. Although either the front driver or the rear driver can fail to use reasonable care, there are certain reasons that make it overwhelmingly likely that the accident will ultimately be the rear driver’s fault.
THE REAR DRIVER IS USUALLY AT FAULT IN A REAR END CAR CRASH
Drivers have a duty to pay attention to the road conditions, weather conditions, and traffic patterns of the vehicles ahead. After taking into account all of the above, a driver must drive at a speed that leaves enough room between their vehicle and the vehicle ahead to stop and or avoid a crash. This is commonly referred to as keeping a safe distance.
The reason most rear end auto accidents are the fault of the rear driver is because the rear driver can see what is ahead and take defensive measures to prevent the crash. Simply put, in most circumstances, if the rear driver is paying attention to the weather conditions, the road conditions, and the traffic ahead, they should be able to keep the proper distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them so that they can stop in time. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has concluded that 87% of rear end crashes were caused at least in part by the rear driver failing to pay attention to the traffic ahead.
This can occur for many reasons including distractions like texting, talking on the phone, or sending emails. It can also happen because the driver is drunk or taking drugs. Other times it simply day dreaming.
WHEN IS THE FRONT DRIVER AT FAULT FOR A REAR END CRASH
The front driver is supposed to be paying attention to the road ahead of them. As a result, the front driver usually has no idea an accident is about to happen and has no way to prevent the rear driver from hitting their car. This is especially true when the front driver is stopped. But there are a few times when the actions of the front driver make it impossible for the rear driver to stop in time even when the rear driver is paying attention and keeping a proper distance. In those circumstances, the front driver may be responsible for causing the accident. The following circumstances make it more likely that the front driver is at fault:
- A sudden abrupt stop at a time and location that is not foreseeable
- The front driver begins to accelerate in reverse
- The front driver’s tail lights are not working
- The front driver pulls into traffic from a side street without leaving enough room for the rear car to slow in time to avoid the crash
Under these circumstances, the law will usually assign some if not all of the responsibility for causing the crash to the front driver.
WHEN WILL NONE OF THE DRIVERS BE AT FAULT IN A REAR END AUTO ACCIDENT?
Believe it or not, there are some rare occasions when a rear end collision might not be either driver’s fault. Sometimes there is simply nothing that either driver could have done to avoid the collision. The law usually considers the following circumstances not the fault of either driver:
- The rear driver has a sudden unexpected and unforeseeable medical emergency
- The rear driver’s vehicle has a design defect or manufacturing defect that creates a sudden inability to stop the rear car. (In this circumstance, the car manufacturer may be at fault)
HOW DO YOU PROVE WHO IS AT FAULT IN A REAR END AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT?
Sometimes both drivers agree about the sequence of events leading up to the impact. In this case it is not difficult to determine who is at fault. But many other times, however, drivers have different recollections of the events. The differing recollections may point to differing beliefs about who is at fault. As a result, drivers may have to prove their account of the accident is correct. Since there is important evidence at the scene that may disappear by the time you hire an attorney, you might be the best person to gather evidence while you’re still at the scene. It is often difficult to do so because you may be too pumped up to remember or you may be too hurt to do so. But if your physically able, gathering this evidence before you leave the scene can often provide tremendous help in determining fault. Evidence to gather will include photos of the vehicle resting points at the scene, photos of the damage to the vehicles, skid marks, and photographs depicting the location of debris from the crash. Eyewitness testimony will also be important. So if you can, get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone that saw what happened.
An experienced car accident attorney can help gather any evidence you were not able to collect yourself. Once all the evidence is gathered, an auto accident attorney can also analyze it and compare it with what each of the drivers is saying and see which version of the events makes the most sense.
In cases involving catastrophic injury, your attorney may need the help of an accident reconstruction expert to help analyze the evidence and come to a conclusion about what happened. This type of expert is specially trained to look at the evidence and render opinions about what happened. For example, if the lead driver says they came to a gradual stop, but the rear driver says there was a sudden and abrupt stop, skid marks, crush damage, the final resting place of the vehicles and the location of debris may give the accident reconstruction expert clues to what happened.
In the end, there may be very little evidence to support what either driver is saying happened. If this happens it may come down to the credibility of the drivers. In other words, it may come down to which driver is more believable. When this happens, the driver that is more believable may ultimately prevail.