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Jeff Sevey

Even though most people these days use seat belts and most cars have air bags installed, many people are still severely injured, or killed, in car accidents each year. In 2015 (the last year statistics are available) 35,092 people were killed in car crashes, and head-on collisions made up 54% of passenger vehicle occupant deaths. That is a huge number of fatalities due to one type of collision.

Studies have shown that certain types of injuries are much more likely to occur in a head-on collision. These injuries also tend to be the most severe.

In this article, we’ll explore what a head-on collision is, the injuries it can cause, and various ways to avoid this particular type of collision to keep you and your friends and family safer on the roads.

What is a Head-On Collision?

A head-on collision, or frontal collision, occurs when the front end of one vehicle makes contact with the front end of another vehicle, resulting in a crash. As you might imagine, it is these types of crashes that can easily result in death due to the speeds involved, and the position of the driver and front passenger within the vehicle. When two vehicles hit head-on, it’s as if the cars had each hit a wall. There is nothing available to soften or absorb the impact. For this reason, these types of crashes are usually the worst.

Injuries Due to Head-On Collision

There are several injuries that are quite common in this type of accident.

  1. Whiplash - The sheer forces involved in any crash will result in a whiplash injury. A head-on collision is the worst because, as the car comes to a complete abrupt stop, the head and neck continue traveling through space at the rate of speed of the car. The whipping motion of the neck results in severe damage to muscles, ligaments, nerves, vertebrae, and spinal discs. Whiplash can result in severe headaches, neck, shoulder, and back pain, dizziness, and numbness due to nerve damage.
  2. Injuries to the neck are the most frequently reported disabling injuries. Nearly a third of reported neck injuries are caused by head-on collisions of varying degrees of severity.
  3. Internal injuries in the abdominal area usually cause damage to the spleen, kidneys, and diaphragm. While more abdominal internal injuries are attributed to side-collision crashes, they do still occur in frontal impact accidents as well.
  4. Head trauma is prevalent in head-on collisions because of the forces involved with the head being thrown backward and forward. The head could hit the steering wheel or the windshield if the victim isn’t buckled in. Air bags reduce the risk of injury due to head trauma, but they will still result in concussion, skull fractures, and brain injuries.
  5. Chest injuries due to the force of the seat belt against the ribcage are common. Chest injury can also occur due to the body hitting the steering wheel or the deployment of the air bag. Blunt force can break ribs and even damage or puncture lungs.
  6. Spinal cord injuries such as herniated or slipped discs, nerve damage, or broken vertebrae can occur in a head-on collision. If the spinal cord damage is severe, the victim could become paralyzed if the accident was a serious one.
  7. Lower body injuries are exceedingly common in frontal crashes, because of the position of the lower body in the vehicle when the crash occurs. They are the first part of the body to absorb impact, and they can hit the underside of the dashboard with extreme force. Knee injuries such as a torn ACL, broken or crushed bones, and crushed legs or feet are all injuries seen in frontal collisions.

Car and truck companies have made vast improvements to safety features aimed at reducing the risk of injuries in a head-on collision, but there is still more work to be done.

There are several things you can do in order to avoid head-on collisions before they occur. The National Safety Council recommends remembering the “four Rs” when trying to avoid a frontal collision:

  1. Read the Road Ahead
  2. Drive to the Right
  3. Reduce Your Speed
  4. Ride Off the Road

Now, let’s look at what each of those statements means in terms of avoiding a frontal collision.

Reading the Road - Scanning the road, cars, and environment up ahead of you, looking for signs that something is amiss with another driver. Also, look for animals that may dart out into the road.

Drive to the Right - If you consistently make a point of driving slightly to the right of center of your lane (on two-lane roads), you’ll be in a much better position to be seen earlier by oncoming traffic intending to pass another car, and you’ll also be closer to the right if something does go awry.

Reduce Your Speed - Stay on the lookout for hazards, and reduce your speed if you see anything, but avoid hitting your brakes if you don’t truly need to.

Ride Off the Road - Steer your car in a controlled manner to the right to avoid an oncoming vehicle. Be aware of the condition and width of the shoulder to avoid going into a ditch yourself. Riding off the road does not mean suddenly turning your wheel violently and causing a rollover.

When attempting to avoid a head-on collision, never steer your car to the left of the centerline or into oncoming traffic. Always steer right. Never jerk the wheel, as this will cause you to lose control of your own vehicle. If you must drive off the road, attempt to aim your vehicle at something soft, rather than something hard. Shrubs or banks would be soft. Concrete or a large tree would be hard. If you cannot avoid hitting something hard, try not to hit it completely head-on.

Of course, use your common sense when driving. Pay attention, wear your seat belts, don’t drive while distracted or under the influence, don’t speed, and always drive with your headlights on.

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