This is the second segment of our five-part series called Anatomy of a Car Crash. Here, we will focus on the dangerous impact involved in rear-end accidents, which is when one vehicle strikes another from the rear. These are among the most commonly occurring types of vehicle collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that rear-end accidents compose approximately 23% of all occurrences, leading to substantial occupant injuries and property damage. They tend to occur during the day and the car that is struck to the rear is usually at a stop when the impact happens.
Common Injuries from Impact
When a vehicle crashes into another from the rear, the leading vehicle's occupants are suddenly shifted forward and then abruptly pulled back by the seat belt or may strike the dash region. Fortunately, most of the potential injuries incurred are not fatal and commonly include the following.
- Injuries to regions of the head or face after striking the dash, steering wheel, windshield or windows, or deployed airbag.
- Various types of neck injuries including whiplash or other strains.
- Injuries that occur in the lower or middle area of the back.
Largely Attributed to Distracted Driving
Rear-end accidents appear to be on the rise as the problem of distracted driving has risen. The problem with distracted driving has emerged as a primary cause of vehicle accidents in recent years; in fact, approximately 80% of accidents and 65% of “near collisions” involve a distracted driver. The common distractions stem from talking or otherwise using a mobile phone or device, eating, applying makeup, and adjusting vehicle electronics such as a stereo or navigational components.
Other Leading Causes
- Excessive speed: When traveling too quickly a driver simply may not have the time needed to prevent striking a slowing or stopping vehicle traveling ahead of them.
- Insufficient braking distance: Failing to allow adequate distance necessary to stop in response to the leading vehicle.
- Fatigued driving: When a driver is tired or otherwise fatigued, they may lack the ability to quickly respond.
- Mechanical failures: To a lesser extent, vehicles may experience problems such as a burnt out headlight that diminishes frontal vision, a problem with the braking system, etc.
Distance & Tailgating
There is a misconception that rear-end collision are largely unavoidable. Collisions where a driver failed to operate in a reasonable manner to avoid an accident are considered preventable. Tailgating another vehicle certainly minimizes your chances of reaching a complete stop before striking the vehicle ahead. A key consideration in your stopping distance is based on the weight of the vehicle. It is advisable to allow for a minimum period of two-seconds to stop between the vehicles.
Preparation & Anticipation
Many drivers fail to properly view the area of roadway further ahead. This allows you to recognize brake light usage ahead, approaching traffic stops, pedestrian crossings, and other cautionary indicators. When you are aware of possible concerns that you are approaching, you are better able to anticipate by slowly reducing speed and being prepared for braking.
Rear-Facing Child Seat Injuries
A study reported in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention had created some cause for concern when it showed crash-test results indicating that children in rear-facing car seats were incurring head injuries in rear-end collisions. This report was viewed as a possible challenge to the belief that it is best safety practice to position these seats facing the rear. Jamie Williams, a researcher involved, said that the study showed that the potential for severe head injuries was greater than most expected. He says that children should remain in the rear-facing seats and “did not conclude they we unsafe;” however, he encourages car seat manufacturers to enhance the safety of them specifically for rear-end collisions.
Vehicle Safety Features
As autonomous vehicle safety technology continues to develop, we are optimistic that we will begin to experience a reduction in the number of rear-end collisions. Two of the key features include forward collision prevention and automatic braking capabilities. Forward collision prevention creates an alert when a potential collision may occur ahead. The automatic emergency braking system takes it a step further by actually engaging the brakes to prevent the crash.