Rear-end crashes are the most common type of motor vehicle collision in California. More people get injured in these collisions than in any other type of crash. In 2018, more people were hurt in rear-end crashes than in side-impact and sideswipe collisions combined.

Car accident injuries from rear-end crashes can break bones and tear soft tissues. Worse yet, the forces you experience in this type of crash can produce brain and spinal cord injuries that leave you permanently disabled.

What Is a Rear-End Collision?

A rear-end crash happens when a trailing vehicle slams into the back end of a leading vehicle. In most cases, the front bumper of the trailing car squarely hits the rear bumper of the leading car. But rear-end collisions also cover crashes where the vehicles collide at an angle.

In the trailing vehicle, the collision causes the occupants to whip forward. They hit their seat belts or, if they are unbelted, the steering wheel and dashboard. As the vehicle comes to a stop, they whip back into their seats.

In the leading vehicle, the occupants get pushed back into their seats during the initial impact. As the driver hits the brakes, the occupants then rebound forward into the seat belts, steering wheel, or dashboard.

In both cars, the whipping forces and the subsequent interior collisions can cause fatal or nonfatal injuries to those occupants.

Common Causes of Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end crashes happen when both cars are pointed in the same direction. Most rear-end crashes happen with both vehicles in motion. The second-most common crash scenario happens when one vehicle is moving, and the other is slowing or stopped. This can happen at a stoplight, stop sign, or in a traffic jam.

Common causes of rear-end collisions include:


Speeding and traveling too fast for conditions increase the chances drivers will lose control of their vehicles. These actions also cut down the time drivers have to react to other vehicles.

A common car crash scenario in California occurs when vehicles on the freeway slow down suddenly due to heavy traffic. In this case, speeders risk hitting stopped vehicles from behind.

Distracted Driving

Distractions prevent you from spotting and reacting to changes in traffic conditions. At just 35 miles per hour, a vehicle covers over 100 feet during a two-second glance at a phone. If a vehicle 30 yards ahead slows down or stops, a distracted driver might not have time to prevent a crash.


Tailgating happens when a driver follows another vehicle too closely. Tailgating can be prevented by following the three-second rule, which most people learn in driver’s education. 

The three-second rule means that the following distance between two vehicles should grow as vehicle speeds increase. It ensures that a driver will see the vehicle in front of them slowing down and be able to react in time.

Back and Neck Injuries from Rear-End Collisions

Your neck and back are particularly vulnerable in rear-end collisions. As your body jerks back and forth, your spine stretches and contracts. These forces can damage the tissues in your back.

The seat belt restrains your chest from hitting the dashboard or steering wheel. But it does not stop the motion of your head. Your head swings forward, stretching your neck before it springs back and compresses it. Since the average head weighs over 10 pounds, the motion of your head can generate considerable stress on your neck.

Some neck and back injuries you might experience from forces in a crash include:

Neck and Back Strain

Muscles move your body. The muscles in your neck and back connect through tendons to your skull, spine, shoulder blades, ribs, and collarbones.

Strains happen when your muscles or tendons get hyperextended. 

The stretched or torn tissues cause:

  • Swelling and soreness
  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Neck and back weakness

Strains usually heal in about a month. You will probably not require medical care unless you suffered a full-thickness tear. But even then, your doctor will probably not operate. Instead, you will need rest and physical therapy.

Sprained Neck or Back

Ligaments hold your skeleton together by connecting bones. Ligaments hold your vertebrae to each other. In your upper back, ligaments also hold your ribs to your spine.

Sprains happen when ligaments hyperextend. 

The damaged or torn ligaments may cause:

  • Bruises
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Limited range of joint motion
  • Popping sensation at the time of injury

Sprains also heal in about a month. If the ligament tore completely, you may need to talk to a doctor about therapy and medication.

Damaged Disc

Collagen discs sit between the vertebrae in your spine. The discs cushion the spine when you stand, walk, and jump.

In a rear-end crash, your spine compresses. This compression can crush and deform your discs. A deformed disc destabilizes your spine. You might lose strength and flexibility in your back. 

The deformation can also press on nerve roots branching from your spinal cord, causing:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Pain radiating into your arms and legs
  • Numbness, tingling, or buzzing sensations

The location of the injured disc will determine where your symptoms appear. A herniated or bulging disc in your neck will affect your shoulders, arms, and hands, while a damaged disc in your back will affect your lower limbs.

Fractured Vertebra

Violent whipping forces from a high-speed rear-end crash can fracture a vertebra in your neck or back. A fractured vertebra is an extremely dangerous injury. The fractured bone could shift and cut the nerves in the spinal cord. If this happens in your neck, you could suffer quadriplegia. If it occurs in your back, the injury could cause paraplegia.

Compensation Recoverable for Back and Neck Injuries After a Rear-End Collision in California

The liability for rear-end crashes usually falls on the trailing driver. They have a responsibility to follow at a safe distance. But sometimes, the liability falls partially or entirely on the leading driver, particularly if they made an unsafe lane change cutting off the other driver.

If you can prove liability, you can pursue compensation for economic and non-economic losses. These losses can include medical costs and lost income. In California, you can also pursue pain and suffering damages to compensate you for the impact of your injury on your enjoyment of life.

Contact the North County Car Accident Lawyers at Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today

For more information, please contact the Vista car accident law firm of Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in North County, CA and its surrounding areas:

Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers – Vista, CA Office
380 S Melrose Dr. Ste. 201
Vista, CA 92081

(619) 344-0360

Petrov Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers – Oceanside, CA Office
702 Civic Center Drive Ste. 105
Oceanside, CA, 92054

(619) 678-1016