Help! My Tank Keeps Getting Rear-Ended!

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 16, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I have been rear-ended twice in the past two years while sitting at a light, by drivers who do not bother to brake at all. I have a huge, bright-blue-and-white 1973 F-250 pickup truck (without lap belts, head rests or air bags, of course). This truck, I would think, is hard to miss. In both incidents, the cars that rammed into me were totaled.

The last one was on a highway with occasional stoplights, and the guy (with a toddler in back) was going probably 50 mph when he failed to see neither the stoplight nor my truck sitting at it. To make matters worse, I have a neurological condition where my brain is too big for my skull (Chiari malformation), and whiplash is terrifying, traumatic and makes the chronic headaches worse. I am having brain surgery in a few weeks.

My question: The truck is for sale; what's the absolute safest car when someone rear-ends the bejesus out of you with no warning? And also, is there a device that I can rig on my rear bumper that will block cellphone signals of those drivers who are behind me and say, "LOOK UP"? Thanks for any advice.

-- Paige

Yikes, Paige. Even if you don't have a brain condition, getting rear-ended like that is unpleasant.

Distraction is a huge problem these days. And I have to think there's a good chance that both of those drivers were doing something other than driving when they rammed into you. My own guess would be that it involved the letters "lol." Even though your truck is big and blue, it's missing something that most modern cars have: A third, center brake light. Since 1986, all cars in the U.S. have been required to have a third brake light at eye level. Early studies showed that having one reduced rear-end collisions by 50 percent.

Of course, now people are used to it, so it's probably less attention-grabbing than it used to be. But I'm sure it still helps. But any new car you get will have a high, center-mounted brake light. And you can always add auxiliary brake lights, like people have on trailers, if you want to go for overkill -- which you might!

Also, your old truck has very dim brake lights, compared with what cars have today -- especially compared to the LED lights some cars are using now. Plus those cloudy, old, plastic taillight lenses have 40 years' worth of scratches on them, making them even duller. Any new car you get will have brighter lights, a third brake light and all kinds of safety features that your old truck doesn't have.

Your new car will have automatic seat-belt pre-tensioners that cinch up your seat belt prior to a collision to keep you in place. You'll get front, side and head-curtain air bags. You probably don't even have headrests to protect your neck in your old truck. Every car has those now, and they've gotten much better in the past decade or so at preventing whiplash. So my guess is that any new, or newer, car that you get will be a huge improvement in protection for you.

I don't know the answer to your question about which vehicle is the absolute best vehicle in which to be rear-ended. But off the top of my head, if money were not an object, I'd recommend something like the new Volvo XC-90, which is high enough off the ground to be seen easily, and has every possible safety feature.

But without knowing your budget or your specific needs, your best bet is to start shopping for cars that suit you, and then check out their safety ratings at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's website: www.iihs.org.

Look up the car's overall safety ratings first (since you could have a different kind of accident next time). Then, if you click on "Print Full Report for This Vehicle" and scroll down, you'll also find separate ratings for "Head Restraints and Seats." Those are the most relevant to rear-end collisions.

Then make sure your head restraint is properly adjusted. You want it no more than about 2 inches from the back of your head. And then put a big, yellow-and-black "Caution, Cargo Includes C4, Explodes on Impact" sign on the back of your car and hope for the best, Paige. Good luck with everything!


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