Rear-end collisions are incredibly common—in fact, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over 2 million rear-end collisions in the U.S. in 2017. The number of rear-end collisions has actually gone up in recent years. Not only are they responsible for numerous injuries, but they also led to almost 2,500 fatalities during 2017. Rear-end collisions account for by far the highest number of collisions among all collisions with motor vehicles in transport.
The nature of a rear-end collision, where your vehicle is hit from behind by another vehicle, means that back and neck injuries are quite common. A lot of force travels through your vehicle and through your body during a rear-end collision, even a minor one, and that force can cause all sorts of damage to your neck, back and other parts of your body.
How Rear-End Collisions Cause Back Injuries
At first glance, a rear-end collision might not seem like such a big deal. They tend to happen at low speeds, which would make it seem like the injuries that result would be relatively minor. The seatbelts in the car will most certainly keep the occupants in their seat during such a collision, and if the impact is significant enough the airbags will deploy. However, even with modern safety equipment, the body is still subjected to significant stress.
When your car is hit from behind by another vehicle, it causes all the bodies in your car to shift back and forth with sudden force. The force can cause a wide variety of damage to the body, including tearing muscles and soft tissues, compressing joints unnaturally and other damage. The initial injuries to your body, along with the way your body copes with those injuries afterward, can put you and any other passengers in the car in an unenviable situation—with loss of mobility, intense pain and possibly leading to permanent injuries.
Common Types of Back and Neck Injuries From Rear-End Collisions
You have 33 vertebrae in your spine. Both the vertebra and the connections between those vertebrae can be injured by the shearing motion of a rear-end collision—not to mention all the surrounding soft tissues. When you realize the numerous areas of potential injury, it is easier to understand why back and neck injuries are so common in rear-end collisions.
Some of the most common back and neck injuries suffered in rear-end collisions include:
- Slipped discs. Although they are commonly called slipped discs, the actual injury is known as a herniated disc. The discs that cushion your vertebrae from one another and that allow flexibility in the spine are made up of a tough outer layer and a soft inner layer. When the outer layer tears and the inner layer protrudes, the disc is herniated.
- Whiplash. The most common type of injury from a rear-end collision. The head is thrown forward when the car is hit from behind, then whips back when it reaches the end of the neck and whips back. Whiplash can include soft tissue damage and can sometimes include damage to the upper back.
- Injuries to the spinal cord. The spinal cord, or system of nerves that run up through the spinal column, can be damaged by a rear-end collision. Spinal cord damage can lead to paralysis, numbness, tingling and other serious issues.
- Spinal fractures. The vertebrae can be broken during the jostling caused by the rear-end collision. The breaks can lead to significant pain and loss of mobility.
Measures to Protect Against Rear-End Collisions
When you consider how many people suffer from neck and back injuries in rear-end collisions, it is no wonder that so many individuals wind up seeking medical care, insurance compensation, and pursue lawsuits due to such accidents. The costs in lives, medical care and money have many advocating for better ways to avoid such collisions.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is advocating for more research on collision avoidance systems on passenger and commercial vehicles. They encourage the purchase of vehicles with collision warning systems and autonomous emergency braking. They also encourage commercial fleet owners to purchase similar types of vehicles.
If you are not in the market for a new vehicle, the best you can do is practice defensive driving, wear your seat belt and make sure your airbags are functional. While these basic safety measures will not fully prevent a rear-end collision, they can help minimize the possibility of one and the damage caused by such an accident.
- NHTSA – CrashStats for 2017
- Mayo Clinic – Whiplash
- NTSB – Safety Alert