Head-on Collisions

Head-on collisions are the auto accidents that drivers see in their worst nightmares. And with good reason: They’re the deadliest type of car accident. When two vehicles run into one another head-on, the speed of both vehicles combined becomes the speed of the collision — effectively doubling the force at which they hit one another. The resulting damage and injuries can be catastrophic. That’s why, even though they’re rare relative to other types of accidents, head-on collisions cause a disproportionate number of the fatalities on American roads.

The Department of Transportation’s study of all reported car crashes in the United States in 2005 shows that head-on crashes with another vehicle accounted for just two percent of all crashes that year and 3.4 percent of injury crashes, but 10.1 percent of fatal crashes. Single-vehicle collisions with a pole, tree, ditch or guardrail accounted for another 11.1 of all single-vehicle accidents, but 21.5 percent of fatalities and 12.8 percent of injuries.

When vehicle occupants in a head-on collision aren’t protected by seat belts or airbags, they risk almost certain death. Even if occupants do use some type of safety restraint in a head-on crash, the most likely result is death, at 28.6 percent of head-on collisions, followed by minor injuries, at 15.3 percent, and incapacitating injuries, at 9.1 percent. Severe injuries commonly seen in survivors of head-on crashes include traumatic brain injuries; internal damage; spinal injuries and multiple fractures. Less serious wounds from a head-on collision can include head and neck injuries, back injuries, broken bones and significant cuts and bruises.

Head-on crashes in which a single vehicle collides with a fixed object are the deadliest kind of head-on crash. That’s because the fronts of vehicles are designed to take the force of a head-on impact. In a multiple-vehicle frontal crash, both vehicles’ fronts absorb part of the impact. But in a single-vehicle crash between a car and another kind of object, only one vehicle is absorbing the force of the crash. Much of the rest of it is absorbed by the occupant or occupants of the vehicle — with deadly results.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of head-on collisions between multiple vehicles take place when both of the vehicles involved are going straight on an undivided road. A 1999 study of crash data by the federal Department of Transportation showed that most head-on collisions happen when a car accidentally moves from its own lane into oncoming traffic. The majority, 68 percent, of head-on fatalities happened when cars were going straight but strayed from their lanes; 23 percent took place when drivers strayed while following bends in the road. Only a minority, 4.2 percent, of the fatal head-on crashes they studied were caused by a driver’s attempt to pass. Other causes of head-on collisions can include rerouting in construction zones, poorly maintained roads and defective auto parts.

The federal government currently requires that all new cars be able to withstand a head-on crash with a solid object at 30 miles per hour and another at 35 miles per hour. The first model year subjected to frontal crash tests was 1980. Head-on collisions are more common outside cities; they make up 13 percent of all fatal rural crashes, but less than 7 percent of all fatal urban crashes. More than 86 percent of head-on collisions in 2005 took place between intersections. California led the nation in sheer number of head-on collisions in 2005, with Texas and Florida tied for second place.

Like all car crashes, head-on crashes are almost always caused by bad decisions — negligent driving — by one or more of the drivers involved. It’s known that 95 percent of all car crashes are caused by driver error; the DOT has found that most crashes happen within three seconds of a driver distraction, such as fiddling with the radio, dialing a handheld device or excessive sleepiness. Impaired driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is also a significant cause of auto accidents, and is exacerbated in many cases by speeding. Head-on collisions occur due to excessive speeding, going the wrong way on a one-way street or freeway entrance ramp, drunk driving, and falling asleep at the wheel, among other reasons. The physics of head-on car collisions result in specific types of injuries. Seatbelt restraints and the steering wheel can cause injury to the chest and ribcage. Serious head injuries are common, because the driver and passengers are likely to strike their heads against the dashboard or headrests. Serious cuts may occur from broken glass.

In recent years, transportation safety authorities have realized that differences in size between two vehicles are the main cause of death in multiple-vehicle crashes. One study found that in a head-on collision between a passenger car and a light truck (such as an SUV, van or pickup truck), the occupants of the car were 3.3 times as likely to be killed. When a larger vehicle and a smaller one collide, the occupants of the smaller vehicle are likely to sustain more serious injuries because the higher bumper and other protruding features of the larger vehicle are at the level of the heads and necks of the occupants of the smaller vehicle. The force of the impact “deforms” the smaller vehicle, pushing jagged metal and glass into the area where occupants sit, potentially crushing or cutting their vulnerable heads and necks.

The causes of head-on collisions are not always immediately identifiable. Many head-on collisions are the result of poor road conditions, such as rain or ice. Head-on collisions can also occur as the result of mechanical problems, such as faulty steering or brakes. That is why Robert C. Hahn, Trial Lawyers begins every case with a thorough investigation of the facts and law involved to determine all possible causes of the collision and to discover who is at fault.

The Spokane, Washington Law Firm of Robert Hahn is one of the leading firms in the area of Personal Injury Law. Our personal Injury clients have the peace of mind in knowing that their case is being handled by an experienced Plaintiffs injury attorney. Our aggressive representation and extensive experience has earned the firm of Robert C. Hahn, III, a stellar reputation for excellence in the representation of injured people.  Robert Hahn’s goal is to provide excellent service by a highly experienced lawyer and legal professionals at an affordable fee.

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