DESPITE THE INTRODUCTION of crash-avoidance features such as forward collision warning systems, automated braking and high-mounted brake lamps on many new vehicles in recent years, rear-end collisions remain the most frequent type of vehicular accident in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, these types of collisions, in which one vehicle strikes the back of another, accounted for more than 32% of all crashes on the nation’s roads in 2014 (the latest year with complete data). Although only a small number of rear-end collisions are fatal – 6.6% of the total number of fatal crashes – they result in millions of dollars in bodily injuries and property damage losses every year.

Common Causes

Understanding why rear-end collisions occur is the first step to managing this risk. More often than not, rear-end accidents occur in the daytime under clear conditions and involve a lead vehicle that is stopped at the time of the crash. This suggests that driver distraction (i.e., texting, reaching for something in the vehicle, eating, etc.) or inattention (i.e., looking away from the roadway, daydreaming, emotional impairment, etc.) are frequently factors in these types of crashes.

Other common causes of rear-end crashes include:

  • Speeding/failure to adjust speed to conditions;
  • Improper following distance;
  • Aggressive or reckless driving;
  • Fatigued driving;
  • Mechanical failure of a vehicle.

Combating the Situation

There are a number of steps motor carriers can take to help reduce the risks of being involved in rear-end accidents:

  • Administer a driver safety program that promotes obeying the speed limit, maintaining a safe following distance and avoiding distractions while driving.
  • Evaluate all trips for fatigue potential based on the season, time of day/ night, distance, previous driver schedule, as well as weather, construction and road conditions. Also, be sure that all driver employees and dispatch personnel are trained in fatigue management.
  • Strongly adhere to your company’s policy related to texting and mobile phone restrictions for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.
  • Implement an organized vehicle preventive maintenance program that systematically inspects, repairs and maintains all company vehicles, as required by Part 396.3 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, to help ensure that only the safest vehicles are on the road.
  • Utilize a driver incentive and recognition program to help encourage and reward good driving behavior.
  • Consider the use of in-vehicle cameras to help shed light on what driving habits may be increasing your company’s rear-end crash risk.

Preventing the Rear Ender

While some drivers think that rear-end accidents are unavoidable, they are, in fact, very often preventable. Here are some hazard prevention techniques that drivers can use to help avoid problems with traffic in front of them and keep from getting hit from behind:

  • Inspect the vehicle – Before heading out, perform a pre-trip inspection as required by federal regulations (§ 396.13) to ensure that the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition.
  • Plan your trip – A well-planned trip goes a long way in avoiding heavily congested areas where rear-end collisions are more likely to occur. Check weather and road conditions, and have an alternate route plan in place before leaving. Periodically check for changing conditions along the way; however, make sure that you are parked in a safe and legal area before doing so.
  • Continually scan the whole traffic picture – Remember that the problems of the drivers ahead of you will quickly become your problem. So, keep your eyes moving and look well ahead on the roadway – 15 seconds ahead as a minimum, more if you can manage it – to spot hazards early enough to react and, in turn, provide trailing vehicles more time to brake. Check your mirrors frequently too. By staying alert to what’s happening to your sides and behind you can help you determine whether you are at risk.
  • Stay alert and be ready to stop – Anticipate the need for slowing and stopping. If you see a hazard developing or if you see brake lights on, remove your foot from the accelerator and cover your brake pedal. Should you need to brake, use smooth and steady stopping techniques. Remember, your stopping distance is directly proportional to the size and weight of your vehicle.
  • Watch your speed – The faster you drive, the more likely you are to have to brake suddenly. This increases the chances of the vehicle behind you failing to brake in time and colliding with the rear of your vehicle. To reduce the risk, obey posted speed limits and adjust your speed to weather, road and traffic conditions.
  • Leave plenty of space ahead – Keep a minimum following distance of six seconds when operating your vehicle, and up to eight seconds or more at night and in poor roadway conditions. This is important for two reasons: (1) it should give you adequate time to slow, stop or take evasive action when a hazard is present, and; (2) it should allow maximum visibility to what is ahead. If another vehicle cuts into your space, slow down and drop back until you again have the desired space ahead.
  • Avoid driving in another motorist’s blind spots – Should that driver drift or change lanes without signaling or looking, you may be left with no options other than hitting the brakes.
  • Stay on high alert while driving in the city – Cities are where most rearend accidents occur, as crowded intersections, changing traffic signals, turning vehicles and pedestrians create multiple hazards. Anticipate conflicts and handle them proactively. When stopped at a red light behind another vehicle, wait to proceed until the vehicle ahead has moved a few feet as the driver may be forced to stop suddenly for a red-light runner. Watch for other vehicles that make frequent stops (i.e., taxis, delivery vehicles, postal service vehicles, sanitation trucks) and increase your following distance to allow more time to react. Also, keep a safe distance from drivers who appear to be unfamiliar with the area, especially if the vehicle makes sudden moves and stops, or if the driver is on a cell phone or attempting to read a map or directions.
  • Use caution when maneuvering through toll plazas – With traffic slowing and stopping to pay tolls, and some drivers jockeying between lanes, toll plazas are a common location for rear-end collisions. To help reduce the likelihood of an accident, maneuver your vehicle to a toll booth well to the right side of the toll plaza, if possible. Doing so will help you steer clear of inattentive or distracted drivers who most often use the straightin approach.
  • Watch your rear – If someone is following you too closely, signal and move to another lane as soon as it is safely possible to do so and allow the tailgating vehicle to pass. If there is nowhere for you to go on the road and/or the tailgater still insists on closely following you, add extra space ahead so that you will not need to brake suddenly.
  • Communicate your intentions – Activate your turn signal early to give drivers behind you plenty of notice before turning or changing lanes. When nearing a red light or stop sign or before turning, slow down gradually rather than making a sudden stop.
  • Focus on the task of driving – Your attention while in the vehicle should be on driving. Also, be sure that you are physically up to the task of driving by getting sufficient sleep and eating properly.

While no one can predict what other drivers will do, using these tips can make the difference in any potential rear-end accident situation.