If you rear end someone — whether because you were distracted, they stopped suddenly, or any other reason — you need to know what happens next. Read on to learn all about what should you do if you rear-end someone while driving, both immediately at the scene and during the accident follow-up period. We even tell what to do if there’s no (apparent) damage.
You Rear Ended Someone: Now What?
What Should You Do Following the Accident?
In any accident, your first step should always be to see if anyone is injured, including yourself and any passengers in your vehicle, and get immediate medical attention, if needed. After that, you should move your vehicle out of traffic, if possible. In some states, it’s illegal to leave your car blocking traffic after an accident.
Depending on the severity and circumstances surrounding the accident, you or the other driver should contact the police. It is important not to leave the scene of the accident unless cleared by a police officer. Should you and the other driver choose to exchange information without involving the police, you are taking a risk; the other driver may make false claims against you, or in some states, you may face legal consequences for leaving the scene of an accident.
If the police are not called to the scene or decline to respond (which can happen in some cases where the accident is minor with no injuries), it’s best to file a police report yourself at the nearest police station. This will get your version of the events officially on record.
While still at the scene of the accident, you’ll need to exchange information with the other driver, including your name and address, insurance information, and a way to contact you. You should also gather evidence for your own records by taking photos of the vehicles involved in the accident and the surrounding areas, including any conditions that may have contributed to the collision.
Finally, you may want to talk to any bystanders who might have witnessed the accident, especially if there are questions about who’s liable. Ask if they saw what happened and if anyone would be willing to give a statement — request contact information from anyone who agrees. Once you’ve exchanged information and finished documenting the accident, you may need to have your vehicle towed, depending on how much damage has been done.
Above all, try to control any anger or panic you may be feeling. You’ll likely feel bad about rear-ending the other person, who will also be emotional due to the accident. It can be very upsetting if the person you rear-ended reacts angrily, but getting into an argument with the other driver will complicate the situation — particularly if the police are involved. Attempt to stay calm, and do not expressly admit fault for the accident if you don’t believe you’re entirely liable.
Is It Always Your Fault?
You may have heard that in rear-end collisions, the driver at the back of the collision is automatically at fault — but this isn’t always the case. While it’s true that both law enforcement and insurance companies tend to favor the driver in front and assume liability against the rear driver, there may be circumstances that make you not liable — or at least only partially liable.
Mitigating circumstances for back drivers in rear-end collisions include:
- Mechanical issues with the front driver’s vehicle
- Negligence on the part of the front driver
While, in many cases, you may be found partially liable for a rear-end collision, circumstances like these can reduce your responsibility and allow you to collect part or all of the damages to your vehicle and other damages, such as medical expenses resulting from the accident. As previously reported, some states also have no-fault insurance laws, meaning that costs like medical expenses are covered by your own insurance provider regardless of who caused the accident.
Should You Report the Accident to Your Auto Insurance Company?
You may be tempted not to report an accident to your insurance company if you’re the back driver in a rear-end collision. However, it’s important for you to contact your own insurance company as soon as possible, even if you were at fault or partially at fault.
There are a few reasons for doing this. One is that you can submit an accident claim to the insurance company, so that they’ll cover any damages done to your vehicle. Another is to place the insurance company “on notice” that the other driver is likely to contact them and submit a claim for their vehicle. This is important, because in the event that the other driver files a lawsuit against you, your insurance company can provide you with an attorney free of charge — provided you have given them notice of the accident.
Understand there’s a time limit for how long you can report an accident. Here’s USAA’s car accident claim time limit explanation if you use USAA or want to see an example of terms.
What About a Chain Reaction?
A chain reaction accident, or multi-car pileup, is when three or more vehicles are involved in a single accident that’s caused by one vehicle reacting to the force of a collision with another vehicle and colliding with a third. Depending on traffic patterns and the force of the initial impact, this chain reaction may continue to more vehicles.
Typically, the at-fault driver in a chain reaction accident is the first one to collide with another vehicle. As an example, this can happen if several vehicles are stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, and a vehicle rear-ends the last car in line, causing a domino effect that can damage one or more other vehicles.
If you rear-end someone because another driver rear-ended you, then you are usually not liable for the accident.
Another common example is multi-car pileups due to weather and dangerous road conditions. In this case, the liability may rest with the first vehicle to collide with another, if the driver was going too fast or not exercising caution while driving in unsafe conditions. However, in some cases — such as weather conditions like black ice that drivers can’t see — there may be no one completely liable for the accident.
If You Don’t See Any Damage, Do You Have to Give the Other Driver Your Information?
If you rear-end another vehicle, whether or not you were fully liable for the accident and regardless of the apparent damage (or lack thereof), it’s still important to exchange information with the other driver. This is due to potential hidden damage that can be caused by a rear-end collision.
Even if the other vehicle’s body is not damaged or only shows minor scuffs, dents, or small cracks, there may be greater damage that isn’t visible. For example, even low-speed rear end collisions may damage the vehicle’s frame. This may affect air bag deployment sensors located on the frame, causing the air bag to not deploy in the event of another accident. Frame damage can also impact the entire vehicle and cause structural damage that requires extensive repair.
Being cooperative in exchanging your contact and insurance information with the other driver if you rear-end a vehicle will only help you ensure that the proper procedures are being followed by both parties, and will serve to strengthen your case if you believe you’re not at fault.
Now you know what you should do if you rear-end someone while driving. No matter how the accident happened, it’s important to stay as calm as possible so you can deal with the situation. After checking for injuries, you should start documenting the accident right away — especially if you believe you’re not at fault or if there were mitigating circumstances. Being cooperative rather than angry or panicked will help your case when it comes to determining who’s liable for the accident.
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