A 19-year-old woman sustained injuries in a multi-vehicle crash in Philadelphia when another car collided with hers and pushed it into a parked school bus. The late-morning accident occurred when a black Scion, driven by an 18-year-old male, allegedly swerved into the left lane, striking the woman’s BMW. This caused the BMW to crash into the back of the bus.
The critically injured young woman became trapped in the vehicle as it was wedged underneath the back of the bus. Rescuers freed her and she was transported to the hospital. No one else was injured in the accident. At the time that the news report of the accident was published, it was unclear as to whether the driver of the Scion would face any charges related to the accident.
In Pennsylvania, there approximately 15 motor vehicle crashes every hour, on average. While some of these car accidents are single-vehicle crashes, many involve multiple vehicles and some could even be considered chain reaction crashes.
What Are Chain Reaction Crashes?
If three or more vehicles are involved in a collision, it is considered a chain-reaction crash. The term “chain reaction” refers to the way these accidents generally begin. Two vehicles collide, and either the force of the initial collision or the disabled vehicles create lead to collisions with still more vehicles. News reports frequently refer to these accidents as “pileups,” particularly when they occur on highways or interstates where there is a lot of vehicular traffic traveling at higher speeds.
Some other types of chain reaction crashes include:
- Vehicles 1 and 2 are stopped at an intersection. Vehicle 3 fails to stop upon approaching the traffic at the intersection and rear ends vehicle 2. The force of the impact pushes vehicle 2 into the back of vehicle 1.
- The driver of vehicle 1 suddenly slams on his or her brakes. Vehicle 2, which is following too closely, is unable to stop before rear-ending vehicle 1. Vehicle 3, also following too closely, slams into the back of vehicle 2.
- Vehicle 2 hits vehicle 1 at a red light. The force of the impact pushes vehicle 1 into the intersection and oncoming traffic, causing it to collide with vehicle 3.
Common Causes of Chain Reaction Crashes
As with most motor vehicle accidents, chain-reaction crashes are generally caused by human error, though weather conditions and visibility issues also play a part. Here are some of the most common ways that chain reactions occur:
- Tailgating. Crashes involving three or more vehicles often begin when one vehicle follows another too closely. The lead vehicle stops suddenly, but the following vehicle does not. The collision causes the lead vehicle to either hit the car in front of it or pushes it into traffic, where another crash occurs.
- Speeding. Speeding reduces the amount of time that a driver needs to bring a vehicle to a safe stop. It also makes it harder for a driver to maintain control of the vehicle and increases the severity of an accident. Many chain reaction crashes occur at higher speeds.
- Failure to use a turn signal. Turn signals communicate your intentions to other drivers. Failure to use the signal when changing lanes or turning may result in the driver behind you being unaware of what you’re doing and causing them to run into your car.
- Distractions. Distracted driving is a major cause of all kinds of motor vehicle accidents and, in high traffic situations, could result in a chain-reaction crash. Distractions such as texting and other cell phone use, eating or drinking, visiting with other passengers, or even external distractions such as billboards or people in other cars all may result in an accident as the driver’s attention is drawn away from the task of driving.
- Alcohol impairment. Alcohol causes deficits in a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, including the functions needed to maintain a safe speed, maintain a single lane of travel, and make good decisions. Alcohol-impaired drivers are at a much greater risk of causing an accident. If that accident occurs in a high traffic area, chances are good that it will involve additional vehicles.
- Improper lane change. Failing to use a turn signal and to ensure that the lane of travel is clear may cause one vehicle to either strike another and push it into traffic or cause a driver to swerve in an attempt to avoid an accident and result in it hitting another car. In congested areas, there is a high risk of additional vehicles being involved in the accident.
- Weather. Conditions such as low visibility due to fog or snow and icy conditions are often culprits behind chain reaction crashes, particularly pileup collisions on the freeway. A pileup on I-78 in Lebanon County, for example, was among the worst accidents in state history. The accident, which occurred during a snowstorm, involved 60 vehicles and resulted in three deaths and 70 people being transported to hospitals around the region for the treatment of their injuries. It wasn’t the only major pileup accident on Pennsylvania roadways. Many massive, multi-vehicle collisions have taken place around the state in the last 20 years.
The common factor in most chain reaction crashes is the presence of traffic congestion. With more drivers operating motor vehicles in a small area, there is more opportunity for human error. When an accident occurs in congestion, there is a greater potential of other vehicles becoming involved simply due to their close proximity.
The Dangers of Chain Reaction Crashes
The risk of becoming injured in an accident may be higher in chain-reaction crashes than in crashes involving just one or two vehicles because of:
- Multiple impacts. When a vehicle becomes involved in a chain reaction crash, it has the potential to be struck more than once. Each impact to the vehicle has the potential to injure the driver and passengers inside.
- Chaotic scene. Chain reaction crashes lead to chaos. They often leave vehicles and debris from vehicles scattered on the road. Drivers and passengers frequently get out of their cars to assess the damage and to talk with other drivers. Good Samaritans often also stop at the scene to render assistance. The weather conditions that factored in the initial crash may still be present, creating slick roads or low visibility. There may be rubberneckers creating further hazards by not keeping their eyes on the roadway ahead of them. Each of these chaos-causing factors increases the risk of serious injury to those at the accident scene.
- Commercial vehicles. American businesses rely on tractor-trailers to transport raw materials and finished products across the country, primarily on the nation’s interstate highway system. However, these vehicles can weigh 20-30 times more than a passenger vehicle, they require more distance to stop, and their high center of gravity makes them prone to rolling over when involved in an accident. Additionally, they have a higher ground clearance, which may cause a smaller vehicle to slip underneath them in an accident. When commercial trucks are involved in chain-reaction crashes, they can cause massive destruction and increase the risk of severe injuries to all involved.
In causing widespread damage, injuries, and fatalities, chain reaction collisions present lawyers, forensic experts, and insurance companies with a massive challenge in determining who should face legal liability to victims for damages. Liability may fall on the negligent actions of one driver, or several drivers may be at fault due to their driving errors.
Here is a look at a few of the common ways these crashes occur with consideration given as to fault:
- Vehicle 1 and vehicle 2 are stopped at an intersection. Vehicle 3 approaches and fails to stop, colliding with vehicle 2. Vehicle 2 is pushed forward due to the impact of the collision and strikes vehicle 1. The liable party would be the driver of vehicle 3.
- Vehicle 1 suddenly stops, causing vehicle 2—which was following too closely—to rear-end it. Vehicle 3, which was also following too closely, crashes into vehicle 2. Vehicle 2 would be liable for the initial collision while vehicle 3 would be liable for the secondary crash.
- Vehicle 1 cuts off vehicle 2—which happens to be a tractor-trailer—on the highway. The driver of the tractor-trailer, unable to get the truck slowed down safely, strikes vehicle 1. The force of the impact causes vehicle 1 to spin out of control into an adjacent lane, where it is struck by vehicle 3. Liability would fall on vehicle 1 for an improper lane change.
When it comes to determining liability in an accident, one must establish that the driver of the other vehicle was driving negligently or recklessly. This is established by showing:
- The other driver owed you a duty of care. In car accident cases, this duty generally consists of operating his or her motor vehicle in a safe and lawful manner.
- There was a breach of the duty of care, such as by driving while distracted, speeding, following too closely, or engaging in another risky driving behavior.
- The breach resulted in the car accident, causing you to suffer injuries and to incur injury-related expenses.
In Pennsylvania, car accident victims may seek compensation from multiple at-fault parties through a personal injury lawsuit, provided they can establish the liability of each party separately. This may involve more than one driver whose actions resulted in a multi-car collision. It also may include other at-fault parties who may not have been involved in the crash itself but whose actions contributed to the circumstances that led to the crash. Such liable parties could include:
- The company that employed a commercial truck driver whose negligence contributed to the collision.
- Governmental agencies for failing to provide proper maintenance or signage on roadways, if there was a direct relationship between the agency’s failure and the accident.
- A business establishment that serves alcohol if it is discovered that the individual was over-served, drove drunk, and caused an accident due to that impairment.
- The manufacturer or distributor of defective vehicle parts that contributed to the cause of the crash.
A personal injury attorney can carefully evaluate all of the factors involved in a multi-car accident to identify all potentially liable parties and potential insurance resources that could be accessed to pay damages to those injured.
Can Chain Reaction Crashes Be Avoided?
While it is impossible to control all of the factors involved in a chain reaction crash, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from falling victim to one. Here are some tips:
- Always use your turn signal when turning or changing lanes to communicate your intentions to other drivers.
- Avoid speeding, particularly in congested areas or in inclement weather. Remember that speeding doesn’t just involve exceeding the posted speed limit, but also driving too fast for the conditions of the road.
- Don’t tailgate. Your vehicle requires a certain amount of distance to come to a safe stop. The bigger the vehicle you’re driving, the more space is required to stop. If you are following too closely and the car in front of you brakes suddenly, you run the risk of crashing into the back of it.
- Use caution when traveling around tractor-trailers, knowing that they require additional space to stop, feature significant blind spots, and are prone to rolling over in accidents. Never drive in a commercial truck’s blind spot or cut a truck off on the roadway.
- Avoid traveling in poor weather, if possible. If you must travel, be sure to go slowly and be extra watchful of sudden stops or even accidents occurring on the roadway ahead of you.
Were you injured in a three-car crash? If so, you may have the right to recover compensation for your injuries. To learn more, contact an experienced car accident injury attorney as soon as possible.