Top 3 Causes of Rear-End Collisions

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the most common type of car crash is a rear-end collision. Rear-end collisions make up 29% of all car crashes. Fortunately, rear-end collisions are rarely fatal. They will injure you and damage your vehicle, but not kill you. Here is an overview of the most common causes of rear-end collisions and who bears responsibility for them.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is one of the most common causes of accidents in the U.S. In Massachusetts, distracted driving increased by 170% over just three years between 2014-16.

Distracted driving causes rear-end collisions because it lengthens your stopping distance. Your stopping distance includes your reaction distance plus your braking distance. Your braking distance will depend on your speed, the quality of your brakes, and the weight of your car. In other words, it is a physical characteristic of your vehicle.

But your reaction distance will vary. If you are distracted, you cannot react as quickly. This can make a huge difference in avoiding a rear-end collision. At 40 miles per hour, your vehicle travels nearly 60 feet during just a one-second glance at your phone. This glance could make the difference between stopping safely and slamming into the trunk of another car.

The driver in the rear vehicle is almost always responsible for rear-end collisions resulting from distracted driving. You have a legal duty to keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on your driving. If you fail to do so, you will probably bear liability for any accident you cause.


Tailgating happens when a driver leaves too little space to the car in front of them. Under the traffic laws, this constitutes a violation called “following too closely.” Tailgating can lead to rear-end collisions because the tailgater lacks the distance to stop safely. Even if the tailgater has perfect reflexes, there will be a delay between seeing the brake lights and applying the brakes.

This is why driving instructions often recommend a three-second following distance. This gives you one second to react, one second to brake, and one second as a safety margin.

When a rear-end collision happens due to tailgating, the tailgater will usually bear liability for the crash. The tailgater has a legal duty to leave a safe distance to the next vehicle. By tailgating, the rear driver has created an unreasonable risk of a crash. This is true regardless of how the accident happens. Even if the front driver is brake checking the rear driver, the rear driver has a responsibility to leave a safe following distance.

Improper Lane Changes

One situation where the fault for a rear-end collision may fall on the front driver happens after an improper lane change. When you pass another vehicle or move into another travel lane, you must leave enough space to allow other cars to stop safely. When you cut off another car, the rear driver does not have enough space to stop.

In this situation, the front driver bears liability for any crash. This is true whether the driver accidentally cut off the other driver or was intentionally brake checking them. If the front driver failed to leave enough space, the front driver will bear liability.

Resolving Liability

The question of liability becomes important because you must determine which driver’s insurer must pay for the damage arising from the accident. The insurer for the driver who caused the rear-end collision will need to pay for any property damage and may be liable for paying injury compensation as well.

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