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What You Need to Know About Highway Collisions & Accidents

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Jeff Sevey

Within the city of Sacramento lies the intersection of two of the busiest highways in California - Interstate 5 and Interstate 80. These two highways are the backbone of the California highway system. Interstate 5 runs all the way from Oregon to Mexico, passing through San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Each day, over 300,000 vehicles use this highway. Interstate 80 runs from the Nevada border through Sacramento, and on to San Francisco, and average daily traffic exceeds 250,000 vehicles. The city of Sacramento experiences nearly 2000 auto accidents every year that result in death or severe injury due to the sheer volume of cars on the road. Fatal accidents are nearly an everyday occurrence.

Overall in the state of California in the year 2010 (the last year to be reported), 2500 fatal car crashes were reported resulting in 2715 fatalities. High-speed collisions on freeways and highways were responsible for 5.5% of those fatalities. Urban interstate highways were where 46.5% of fatalities occurred, many due to high-speed collisions. While injuries and death can occur in all types of traffic accidents, high-speed collisions on freeways tend to be the most devastating to those involved.

Whether a driver and/or passengers in a high-speed highway collision will be left with disastrous injuries or even killed depends on many different factors. The speed the vehicle is traveling at, the weight of the vehicle and the frame type, what the driver has collided with, and how long after the accident those injured have to wait for medical treatment are all factors that make a difference in the outcome.

Low-Speed Collisions vs. High-Speed Collisions

A high-speed collision is defined as an impact that occurs while a vehicle is traveling over 30 miles per hour. These types of collisions occur most frequently on highways, interstates, and freeways due to a driver’s ability to legally drive faster on those types of roadways. The faster the vehicle is traveling, the greater the chance of a devastating accident, because you have much less reaction time when you’re traveling at high speeds. There is also very little room for error when your vehicle is traveling at speeds over 30 miles per hour. Imagine if you will, the difference between taking a turn at 30 miles per hour, and taking that same turn at 60 miles per hour. You can see how even slight mistakes can have catastrophic consequences when traveling at high speeds on busy highways.

Point of Impact

What happens in a frontal collision (head-on accident) is that any unrestrained driver or passenger in the vehicle continues moving forward through space even though the vehicle has come to an immediate stop. The victim is stopped suddenly by the dash, fracturing, dislocating, or crushing the lower extremities. The upper body continues to move forward until finally the head, spine, and torso impact the steering wheel or windshield.

During a lateral impact (hit on the side), the driver or passenger is accelerated away from the side of the vehicle. Injuries that can occur include severe pelvic compression, abdominal cavity organ injuries, rupture of the diaphragm, and severe bruising of the heart muscle and pulmonary veins and arteries.

A rear impact also results in the acceleration of the body of the victim. An improperly fitted headrest can result in severe neck injuries such as a broken neck, and severe head trauma as the brain hits the inside of the skull with incredible velocity.

Ejection from the vehicle is a possibility in any type of impact accident and is associated with a significantly greater chance of critical injury or death. High-speed collisions, such as those occurring on highways and freeways are responsible for some of the most severe and traumatic injuries that can occur in auto accidents. Just a few of these injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Herniated or ruptured disks
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Permanent paralysis
  • Amputations
  • Fractures
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Burns
  • Soft tissue and internal organ damage

Highways crashes will often result in a vehicle that is “totaled”, or completely unable to be driven any longer. The driver and passengers that need to be removed from a vehicle that has sustained that much damage may not be able to be easily extricated from the vehicle. Severe measures must be taken, such as amputating limbs to remove the victim from the car, or the use of the “jaws of life” to cut open the vehicle so that the injured parties may be removed.

In any high-speed collision, there is a high chance that the vehicle will catch fire due to broken gas lines, etc. In this case, the victim inside the vehicle may sustain Severe burns to their body, and if they cannot be safely removed from the burning vehicle, they will perish.

Auto insurance companies will consider your claim, and evaluate the damage caused to the vehicles. They will determine whether the forces involved were sufficient enough to cause the damage to the vehicle and the injuries reported. If the property damage to the vehicle is less than $3000, or if there is no frame damage to the vehicle, the insurance company may altogether refuse to pay damages for medical bills, time off work, or pain and suffering because they claim the severity of the impact was not sufficient to produce the injuries reported.

An accident on a freeway or highway is much more likely to occur when someone is speeding, or breaking a traffic law like tailgating, changing lanes illegally, or texting while driving (distracted driving). When you are traveling at high speeds, remember that there is very little room for any error. Pay close attention to the road, traffic conditions, and vehicles surrounding you. It is not just your driving you need to look after - you need to look out for other drivers that may be driving dangerously also. By driving as safely as possible, keeping your distractions to a minimum, and monitoring everything going on around you in traffic, you’ll become a safer driver, and greatly decrease your chance of having a high-speed collision on one of California’s beautiful highways.

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