Why Do Rear-End Collisions Happen and Who’s to Blame?

Rear-end collisions happen for many reasons, but the blame frequently falls on the rear driver. Learn about the causes of rear-end collisions.

Blue car crashing into black car
Man in navy blue suit and light blue tie with white shirt

Matt Baggett

July 14, 2022 08:00 AM

Rear-end collisions happen more than any other type of multi-vehicle collision. In an average year, about 29% of crashes will involve a rear-end collision.

These crashes have a high likelihood of causing an injury. By some estimates, 85% of neck injuries caused by car accidents result from rear-end crashes.

As a result, most rear-end crashes lead to insurance claims and lawsuits, where the blame for the accident will play a central role in the issue of liability. Victims who want to file a personal injury claim after a rear-end crash should contact a car accident lawyer for help.

Here are some facts about why rear-end collisions happen and who bears the blame for them.

What Are the Mechanics of Rear-End Collisions?

Rear-end collisions happen when a trailing vehicle hits the rear end of a leading vehicle. In the leading vehicle, the impact forces the occupants into their seats. They then whip forward as the driver hits the brakes or the leading vehicle hits another obstacle.

In the trailing vehicle, the occupants experience the opposite forces. The occupants lurch forward as they hit the leading vehicle. After hitting the seat belt, they whip backward into their seats as the vehicle comes to a stop.

This back-and-forth whipping motion hyperextends the neck before compressing it. The resulting injuries in the neck and back can cause severe pain and even damage the spinal cord.

The whipping motion can also cause the brain to slosh inside the skull. The sloshing of the brain can cause a brain injury, such as a concussion or contusion.

The airbags will likely deploy in the trailing vehicle. This will frequently prevent the occupants of the trailing vehicle from suffering head trauma. However, a concussion can occur even without hitting your head.

Unfortunately, auto manufacturers did not design airbags to deploy when a vehicle gets hit from behind. As a result, the airbags will probably not inflate in the leading vehicle. In addition to neck, back, and brain injuries, the occupants of the leading vehicle may also suffer trauma to the head and face.

What Are the Causes of Rear-End Collisions?

All rear-end collisions happen because of inadequate stopping distance. But vehicles can get too close in many ways, including:

Distracted Driving

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver inattention is the most common cause of traffic accidents. Almost 23% of accidents have distracted driving as a sole or primary factor.

Distracted driving extends your braking distance. Braking distance includes both the time for you to react and the time for your vehicle to stop. Distractions increase your reaction time. Distracted driving includes anything that takes your mind, eyes, or hands away from the job of driving.

Some common distractions include:

  • Using electronics
  • Eating
  • Adjusting the radio
  • Talking to other occupants
  • Daydreaming
  • Dealing with pets or children

Most of the time, the trailing driver bears the blame for a distracted driving rear-end collision. The driver of the rear vehicle must keep a safe distance from the leading vehicle. If the driver of the rear vehicle gets distracted, the driver should pull over. By remaining in traffic, the driver creates an unreasonable risk of rear-ending the leading vehicle.

Occasionally, the leading driver bears the blame for a distracted driving rear-end collision. The driver of the front vehicle must leave a safe distance when moving into another occupied lane. If the leading driver cuts off the trailing vehicle, the rear driver might not have time to stop before a rear-end crash.


Speed contributes to nearly 19% of motor vehicle accidents. Higher speeds give you greater momentum. Speeding includes driving faster than the posted speed limits or driving too fast for current conditions. If the road or lighting conditions interfere with braking, you have less time to react and brake.

For example, wet roads make braking more difficult than dry roads. Speeding on wet roads exposes you to a much higher risk of a rear-end collision than traveling at or below the speed limit.

High speeds also amplify the effects of distractions. At 35 miles per hour, your car travels over 51 feet every second. This means your car will cover over 100 feet during a two-second glance at your phone.

In almost all rear-end collisions resulting from speeding, the rear driver bears the blame.

Perceptual Errors

Perceptual errors include misjudging another vehicle’s distance or speed. They also include errors in judgment about the gap to leave between yourself and the leading vehicle. In other words, perceptual errors include inadvertent tailgating.

Stopping distances depend on many factors, including your brakes and speed. But a good rule of thumb is that you should leave a three-second gap between you and the car in front of you.

This leaves you one second to react and one second to brake, with a one-second safety margin. This formula works because the distance you travel in three seconds will increase as you increase your speed. As a result, you will leave greater distances at greater speeds.

The blame for almost all accidents resulting from tailgating falls on the rear driver.

Driver Incapacity

Driver incapacity includes:

Intoxicated and drowsy driving combined cause about 24% of accidents. Intoxicated and drowsy drivers have an increased reaction time. You cannot react as quickly when the vehicle in front of you stops or slows down, which means you increase the risk of rear-ending it.

Intoxication and drowsiness also cloud your judgment. As a result, you will misperceive your speed, the other car’s speed, and the distance between you.

Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving does not cause as many accidents as the other causal factors discussed here. But when it does, it often results in rear-end collisions. Specifically, two deliberate maneuvers, tailgating and cutting off other drivers, put you dangerously close to another vehicle so that a rear-end collision can happen.

When you drive aggressively, you deliberately put yourself into a situation that you cannot control. If aggression leads to tailgating, you have a high risk of causing a rear-end collision and bearing the blame for it.

Similarly, if you cut off another driver, you have a high risk that the other driver may hit you from behind. The aggressive driver generally bears the blame for the collision.

How Do You Avoid Rear-End Collisions?

As you follow other vehicles, leave a safe gap between you and other drivers. Avoid driving while distracted or intoxicated.

Although blame usually falls on the rear driver, the leading driver can also take steps to reduce the risk of a rear-end collision. You can change lanes and let a tailgating driver pass. This can save you both the vehicle damage and injuries that result from rear-end collisions.

Matt Baggett is a personal injury lawyer serving in Jacksonville, FL and its surrounding areas. In 2012, he co-founded Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers and ever since he and his legal team have helped recovered tens of millions of dollars for injured clients and their families.

Headline Image: istock/monkeybusinessimages

Related Articles


What to Do if the Other Driver Doesn't Report the Accident

by Rick Lopez

Call 911 to report a car accident if the other driver refuses to report the car crash. Learn more about what to do after a car accident occurs in Texas here.

Unseen individual writing up report with cracked windshield in background


What Should You Do if You Were Hurt in a Hit-and-Run Accident in Texas?

by Mark A. Anderson

Call 911 to report a hit-and-run accident in Texas. Learn what to do next to protect your right to file claims seeking compensation for injuries and damages here.

White car with damage sits on side of the road


8 Situations That Require a Personal Injury Lawyer

by Sagi Shaked

An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you obtain the compensation you need after an accident. Learn about 8 situations that require an attorney here.

Man with cast on leg resting with crutches in background


Steps To Take After a Naperville Car Accident

by Mark Mathys

Learn about the steps to take after a Naperville car accident that can help protect your right to receive fair compensation for damages.

Two cars damaged from accident with vehicles in backdrop


Why You Should Hire a Car Accident Lawyer

by Bill Winters

There are many benefits to hiring a car accident lawyer. They’ll handle your claim from start to finish and ensure you recover the best possible outcome. Learn more here.

Red fire truck beside two crashed cars


7 Things to Never Do After a Car Accident

by J.L. King

The actions you take after a car accident could determine the injury compensation you stand to receive. Learn seven things to never do after a car accident.

Cartoon of person with big pencil and check list


Nine Factors That Determine How Much to Expect from a Car Accident Settlement

by Aaron Tillman

Learn about the factors that can impact how much to expect for a car accident settlement in Portland, including what you can do to maximize how much you receive for an injury claim.

Yellow background with black and white animation of car crash


What Will a Car Accident Lawyer Actually Do for You?

by Joshua Fogelman

Learn what a car accident lawyer can do for you after a Texas car crash, including protecting your right to receive maximum compensation for your injuries and damages.

Hands pointing to a white car that has been damaged


5 Things To Consider When Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer

by Gregg Hollander

The lawyer you choose could make the difference between a winning and losing outcome. Learn five things to consider when choosing a car accident lawyer.

Two cars crashing into each other beside judge's gavel


Should I Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident That Wasn't My Fault?

by Mark Anderson

Learn about the reasons why you need to get a lawyer for a car accident claim and how a lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve for injuries and damages.

Girl in orange sweater grasping injured neck


5 Things To Consider When Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer in Nevada

by Justin Watkins

There are many things to consider when hiring a car accident lawyer, including skill, experience and cost. Read on to learn more.

Woman on phone looking at cracked windshield


5 Things To Consider When Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer

by Stephen R. Schultz

A car accident lawyer helps you recover compensation for injuries and damages. Choosing a lawyer to handle your case can be confusing, but these tips can help.

Laptop corner and hand checking box on paper


What Should I Consider When Hiring a Car Accident Attorney

by Brian White

The lawyer you hire for your injury case can make a difference in the outcome. Learn 5 things to consider when you choose a car accident lawyer.

Man in peach shirt shaking hands with someone


Benefits of Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney After a Car Accident

by Jordan R. Wagner

Many people avoid filing personal injury claims. In this article, we outline the benefits of hiring a personal injury lawyer after a car accident.

Woman in orange sweater climbing out of car

When to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer

by Nick Movagar

When you get injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you can pursue injury compensation. Learn when you should hire a car accident lawyer.

Wrecked car with broken windshield

When Do You Need to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?

by Paul Brannon

When do you need to hire a car accident lawyer? Learn the Florida no-fault law, personal injury claims and hiring an attorney for your car wreck.

Hiring a Lawyer After a Car Accident

Trending Articles

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

The Long, Short, Thick and Thin of It

by Avrohom Gefen

“Appearance discrimination” based on employees’ height and weight is the latest hot-button issue in employment law. Here’s a guide to avoid discrimination.

Woman stands in front of mirror holding suit jacket

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Trailblazing Titans of the Industry: Announcing the 4th Edition Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers honor and celebrate these talented, innovative newer lawyers who are trailblazing their way to victories in courtrooms across the country.

Connected web above map of the U.S.

Pearls of Wisdom: Celebrating 30 Editions of Best Lawyers’ Rankings

by Best Lawyers

In celebration of our landmark 30th edition, Best Lawyers’ leadership explains how the world’s original and most trusted legal awards maintain their esteem, integrity and reputation for excellence among the top legal entities and their clients.

Best Lawyers logo for 30th edition release with gold glitter in background

Vanguards of Victory: Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada 2024

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada™ has been announced, and the lawyers showcased by these awards are rising to the challenge each day as advocates for clients all across the country.

Blue and black background with small squares connected by lines

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots


Thomson Rogers: Toronto Personal Injury Lawyers

by Thomson Rogers

Since establishment in 1935, Toronto-based firm Thomson Rogers has consistently delivered results for their clients struggling through complex litigation.

Top of a Staircase Featuring Two Large Black Doors with Bookshelves and Chairs on Each Side

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag


How Long Does a Felony Stay On Your Record in California

by Peter Blair

A felony can remain on your record for life in California. Some felonies qualify for expungement. Learn how to remove a felony conviction from your record in California.

Hand setting bird free out of a guarded fence

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Incendiary Behavior

by Lyssa A. Roberts and Rahul Ravipudi

California’s future will see more frequent wildfires caused by faulty equipment. Litigation tied to recent Golden State infernos shows the way forward.

Mountain range with glow of wildfires behind it

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset