Head-On Collisions Are Among the Most Dangerous Types of Accidents
According to the Fatal Analysis Reporting System, 18 percent of fatal crashes not involving an interchange or junction were head-on collisions. The majority of these collisions happen on rural roads, where there is often no center divider or drivers believe they can pass by crossing the center line. The higher rate of speed on this type of road in rural areas greatly increases the fatality statistics for head-on collisions; while these crashes do happen in urban areas, they are far less likely to be fatal because traffic speeds are usually lower.
Most head-on collisions result from "unintentional" driving manuevers; a driver may take a curve too fast, overcorrect, fall asleep, get distracted, lose control of his or her car, or make some other misjudgement behind the wheel.
Head-on collisions can happen when a vehicle crosses the center line of a roadway into oncoming traffic or when a vehicle turns the wrong way down a one-way street. Many head-on collisions happen when drivers are not paying attention to the road around them; they may be attempting to pass another vehicle, driving on unfamiliar streets, or operating their vehicle while drunk, high, drowsy, or otherwise impaired.
What makes head-on collisions so dangerous?
When an object is at rest, it will only move when force is applied to it. When one car travelling at 35 miles per hour slams into another that is stopped, the force required to keep the first car moving at 35 mph is transmitted into the second car. When two cars travelling at 35 miles per hour slam into each other head-on, the force that each driver will feel is equivalent to the force of slamming into a stopped car at 70 miles per hour.
This means that when two cars are travelling at high speeds, the force involved in a head-on collision is much more likely to cause catastrophic injuries or death.
What can be done to reduce the rate of head-on collisions?
- Drivers should always be awake, alert, and unimpaired. If someone suspects that their judgement behind the wheel may be reduced, they should find a designated driver; use a rideshare, taxi, or public transit; or stay off the road until they're able to drive safely.
- When possible, two-lane roads should have central rumble strips, wide cross sections, median barriers or a "buffer median" between oncoming lanes. This will give drivers who are drifting out of their lane more time to react and return to their lane--and in a high-speed collision situation, a fraction of a second more time may be enough to prevent a catastrophe.
- Roads should be kept as free as possible of ice, snow, and other slick substances. Skid-resistent pavement can increase cars' traction on the road.
- Highways and other high-speed roads should be built with reducing the risk of head-on crashes in mind. Engineers should plan for wider shoulders to prevent overrecovery; curvature, superelevation, and widening through the curve on horizontal curves; and rumble strips before dangerous areas.