Having defended at-fault drivers (defendants) for several years for large insurance companies, and having represented injured parties (plaintiffs) for even longer, one thing I can tell you is that accidents don’t just happen. A motor vehicle generally collision occurs when a driver does something he shouldn’t or doesn’t do something he should. It requires that a driver breach a known standard of care owed to other drivers.
By analyzing our cases, personal injury attorneys have an excellent perspective on how collisions occur and thereby, how to avoid them. Whether it is driving too fast on a wet road and losing control, running a red light, changing lanes without checking the blind spot, or rear-ending another vehicle, knowing how collisions occur can help us avoid them. Primarily, It is the rear-end collision I wish to address in this entry. A rear-end collision occurs when one vehicle (the rear vehicle) strikes the back of the front vehicle (lead vehicle). Rear-end collisions are very common, and just about all of them are preventable.
One common rear-end scenario is caused by distraction. Whether it is adjusting the stereo, texting, or turning around to yell at the kids, the common factor is that the driver is moving forward, while looking away from the direction of travel. If the front vehicle slows or stops, there is little the rear vehicle can do to avoid an impact. This scenario is easy to avoid, by simply looking forward or pulling the vehicle to the side of the road if one needs to look away.
Another common rear-end collision involves the yellow traffic signal. In this instance, the rear driver expects the lead driver to continue or even accelerate through a traffic signal that has turned yellow. The rear driver then accelerates. If the lead driver slows or stops, you can have a significant different in the speed between the two vehicles. The rear driver may not have the time or distance to stop, and a collision follows. The best way to avoid this collision, as the rear driver, is to understand that the lead driver is not required to speed up or even continue through the yellow signal. The rear driver, therefore, should always be prepared to stop when faced with a yellow light.
Similar to the yellow light is a merger onto a main road while facing a yield sign. In this common situation, the rear driver is wishes to merger onto a main roadway, requiring a lane change, while the lead vehicle attempts to do the same. Often the rear driver will look over his or her shoulder, and when an opening arises, the rear driver accelerates. The problem occurs when the lead driver either has not begun to move forward, or has done so at a slower rate than the rear vehicle. This can result in large impact because the rear vehicle is accelerating at the time of impact. To avoid this collision, the rear driver should always check to make sure the lead driver has already merged, prior to accelerating.
A fourth common mechanism, perhaps the most common, involves the rear vehicle traveling too close to the lead vehicle for the present conditions and speed. The rear driver should consider factors such as the type of traffic (highway, residential, stop-and-go, etc.), the speed of traffic, the weather conditions, road conditions, and visibility, and then alter his or her driving appropriately. These collisions generally occur when the lead driver has to stop or slow suddenly, and the rear driver has not given himself the proper distance and time to stop as well. To avoid these collisions, the rear driver should allow ample distance to both react and stop, if necessary. The rear driver should also be aware of alternate “escape routes,” such as the ability to change lanes or move to the shoulder, if necessary.
Not all rear impacts are the fault of the rear driver, however, the above instances are common ways in which rear-end impacts occur. By considering and remembering these mechanisms, we drivers may avoid or reduce the total number of motor vehicle collisions.