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Rear End Accidents: When Someone Wasn’t Paying Attention

Rear End Accidents Shouldn't Happen
Why Rear End Accidents Happen

Rear end accidents happen at an alarming rate.

Approximately 2,000 people die as a result of a rear end collision every year.  Rear end accidents injure over 500,000 people annually.  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics also show that 90 percent of rear end accidents happen as a result of distracted drivers.  40 percent of the 6 million car accidents in the U.S. each year are rear end accidents.

A rear end collision occurs roughly every eight seconds in the U. S.  That means during a one-minute TV commercial, there are 7 rear end auto accidents in the U.S.

Before there were cell phones with texting and other distractions, rear end accidents could be caused by drunk drivers or simply day dreamers.  But with smartphones, texting and other such distractions, rear end accidents likely won’t go away any time soon.

Rules of the Road

Let’s face it.  Many people simply don’t pay attention while driving.  Nearly always, rear end accidents occur because the mind of the driver that came up from behind was focused partially or entirely on something other than the road.

When a rear end collision happens, more likely than not the driver in the back car violated at least a few rules of the road.  The three rules of the road most often broken by definition, just by the fact that a rear end accident happened, are these:

Keeping a safe following distance – Following too closely:  Drivers are prohibited from following other vehicles more closely than is reasonable, taking into consideration the speed of the vehicle, traffic conditions and highway circumstances.

Unreasonable Speed:  In addition to actual posted speed limits, most states impose an overriding duty at all times to keep vehicle speed at a rate reasonable with regard to all circumstances including weather conditions and traffic.

Operating a vehicle in control at all times:  By the fact of striking the rear of another vehicle, the offending driver simply failed to maintain control of their vehicle, causing it to hit the car in front.

While the actual wording of rules like these varies from state to state, the basic concepts behind the rules of the road are nearly universal.  In addition to these rules, motor vehicle operators can be cited for negligent operation and reckless operation.  These violations carry hefty fines and license suspensions.

The “Stopped Short” Defense

Drivers who have rear-ended another car sometimes blame the driver they hit, claiming the front driver “stopped short”.  But this contradicts the basic rules of the road above, which, taken together, require all of us while we’re driving our cars to constantly observe surrounding conditions, whether it’s traffic, weather or otherwise, and to drive accordingly.

My office represented a driver who stopped on a two lane road because he saw an animal.  The driver tailgating my client immediately claimed my client “stopped short”, causing his own injury.  My client could not identify the animal, explaining that he looked away as he braked the car to extend an arm and brace the front seat passenger.  Insurance attorneys for the other driver attempted to argue that my client’s inability to identify the animal proved he was not credible.  I successfully pointed out that it made no difference.  It could have been a dog, a cat a child on a skateboard or a bicyclist.  Such things are foreseeable, if not routine, in metropolitan areas.  Thus the rear-ending driver violated all three of the rules of the road listed above.

To be fair, in a rare case, the vehicle in front can be found partially or wholly at fault, for example at night if they have failed to replace burned out tail lights or if some known mechanical problem with the vehicle went knowingly unattended and caused the stop.  These are rare cases.

Rear End Driver Presumed at Fault

Formally or informally, by rules of the road or common sense, the driver of the car that comes up from behind and strikes the car in front is at fault.  Sometimes the presumptions against the offending rear-end driver actually appear in state law:

Rear End Collision. The operator of a vehicle subject to the Safe Driver Insurance Plan shall be presumed to be more than 50% at fault when operating a vehicle which is in collision with the rear section of another vehicle.

Massachusetts Standards of Fault, 711 CMR 74.01 (03)

Will Computers Reduce Rear End Accidents?

Insurance companies and others place great faith in autonomous car technology.  Computers, theoretically anyhow, never look away or become distracted and can apply the brakes when sudden dangers appear in front of the car.  One government study concluded:

A collision warning system, particularly when paired with active braking, such as dynamic brake support and autonomous emergency braking, could significantly reduce the frequency and severity of rear-end crashes.

The Use of Forward Collision Avoidance Systems to Prevent and Mitigate Rear-End Crashes, NHTSA, May 19, 2015

After Rear End Accidents

If a rear end collision happens, secure your vehicle and make sure it and your passengers are safe.  Call for help.  Always take pictures of the vehicles, their license plates and the general scene.  Scene photos should show skid marks or the area where they would have been had the other driver used the brakes.

Serious injuries are obvious.  But quite often, at the scene of the accident it is impossible to fully determine long term medical effects of the impact caused by the accident.

Car accidents are not fun.  Getting full fair compensation presents more complications than it should.  Insurance companies more interested in saving the company money while undercutting your claim will have excuses for failing to fully document personal damages.

Consider consulting my office, which has represented clients injured in accidents of all types for over 20 years.


Auto Crashes, Insurance Information Institute, February, 2017

Massachusetts Rules of the Road   , 720 CMR 9.06

New Hampshire Rules of the Road   , RSA 265

The Use of Forward Collision Avoidance Systems to Prevent and Mitigate Rear-End Crashes, Special Investigation Report, NTSB, May 19, 2015.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

The information on this web site is offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Laws vary widely from state to state. You should rely only on the advice given to you during a personal consultation by a local attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state laws and the area of practice in which your concern lies. This web site must be labeled advertisement in some jurisdictions.