Rear-end collisions are one of the most common types of vehicle collisions. In an average year, rear-end collisions make up about 30% of all car accidents. Understanding how rear-end collisions occur and the injuries they commonly produce can help you recognize the connections between your health problems and auto accident.

Here are some things you should know about common rear-end collision injuries and the steps you can take to recover compensation for them.

Causes of Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions happen when one vehicle strikes another from behind. We’ll take a look at common situations in which rear-end collisions occur below.

Distracted Driving

Inattention by a driver can lead to a rear-end collision. A simple distraction like a ringing cell phone or spilled drink can draw the driver’s attention away from the road for long enough to miss the brake lights on a vehicle in front of them. By the time the distracted driver reacts, they may have already hit another vehicle.

Intoxicated and Drowsy Driving

Drugs, alcohol, and sleep deprivation can affect a driver’s reflexes and ability to focus. Rear-end collisions can happen quickly. At 55 miles per hour, a car covers 80 feet every second. An even slightly delayed reaction can result in a rear-end collision.

Speeding

Speed can increase the chances of a rear-end collision. It can also increase the amount of damage a collision can cause. A vehicle’s energy increases by the square of its speed. This means that increasing your speed from 25 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour doubles the energy and damage of a collision.

Speeding also reduces your reaction time, which can affect your ability to avoid a rear-end collision. At 35 miles per hour, you have 40% less time to avoid a collision than you do at 25 miles per hour.

Road Conditions

Water, ice, and debris on the road can lead to rear-end collisions. Speeding increases the risk that poor road conditions will cause rear-end collisions.

Aggressive Driving

Tailgating, cutting off other drivers, failing to signal for lane changes, “brake check” rapid stops, and other aggressive behaviors can result in rear-end collisions.

What Happens in a Rear-End Collision?

When one vehicle strikes another from behind, the occupants of the rear vehicle fly forward. In the best-case scenario, they will strike against their seatbelts or airbags. In the worst-case scenario, they will hit the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. As the rear vehicle stops, occupants of the vehicle will be thrown back into their seats.

The occupants of the front vehicle will experience the opposite motion. They push back into their seats before being thrown forward.

The energy of the collision and the energy transferred to the occupants will depend on the speed and weight of the vehicles. A greater speed difference between the vehicles will produce a more serious crash and injuries.

Similarly, a heavier rear vehicle will cause greater damage and injuries than a lighter one. Thus, a truck accident in which a semi-truck rear-ends a passenger car will cause more severe injuries than a car accident between two vehicles of similar weight.

Common Injuries in a Rear-End Collision

The back-and-forth motion caused by a rear-end collision can result in some distinctive injuries, which include:

Whiplash

Whiplash occurs when the whipping motion of the head strains the neck muscles. This injury can result in strained muscles and torn tendons and ligaments. Mild cases of whiplash can heal in a few weeks. Severe cases of whiplash may require months of therapy before they recover.

Broken Vertebrae

The spine consists of vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs. When the neck and back are strained during a rear-end collision, the vertebrae can crack. A fractured vertebra can introduce bone fragments into the spinal column that can cause spinal cord injuries. A fractured vertebra can also slip out of place and press on the spinal cord.

A spinal cord injury can lead to:

  • Nerve pain
  • Numbness and weakness in the extremities
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Loss of sensation

In severe cases, a spinal cord injury can cause paralysis, loss of bladder and bowel control, and even breathing problems.

Disc Injuries

Intervertebral discs consist of a fibrous outer coating and a gel-like interior. The discs cushion the spine and provide flexibility in the back.

As the body whips back and forth in a rear-end collision, the discs expand and compress quickly while under great force. This compression can damage the discs. Damage could include:

  • Bulging discs, in which the fibrous outer coating partially breaks down and bulges
  • Herniated discs, in which the gel-like interior of the disc protrudes through the fibrous outer coating

In either case, the disc can press on the spinal cord. Again, this type of spinal cord injury can lead to nerve pain and other long-term symptoms.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

During a rear-end collision, a driver’s head can strike the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. But even if the head does not strike anything, the whipping motion experienced can cause a person’s brain to move around inside of their skull. 

This motion may result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) like:

  • A concussion, which occurs when the sloshing of the brain inside the cerebrospinal fluid causes widespread but minor bruising of the brain
  • A contusion, which occurs when the brain strikes the inside of the skull, resulting in bleeding and swelling
  • A diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which occurs when the whipping motion tears nerve cells in the brain

TBIs can cause minor symptoms that last a few weeks or severe symptoms that can last for years. Some symptoms of TBIs, such as memory loss or behavior changes, may never go away.

Compensation for Rear-End Collision Injuries

Kentucky uses a no-fault insurance system. This means drivers in an accident will first look to their own auto insurer for basic compensation after a rear-end collision.

If your injuries meet certain thresholds, you can reject your insurer’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and sue the at-fault driver. This type of lawsuit can assert your claims to both economic damages and non-economic damages, including pain, suffering, inconvenience, and mental anguish.

When a rear-end collision results in spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, or other lasting injuries, your best option may be to opt out of the no-fault system and file a lawsuit. You should consult a lawyer to evaluate your case. They can help you to decide whether to take the basic PIP benefits or file a lawsuit.