Recently, CBS News released footage showing the instant that a semi-truck bumped a passenger vehicle and then veered into oncoming traffic and struck a van head-on. The van was carrying a church group from Louisiana to Disney World. Five children in the van were killed, as well as the driver of the semi-truck and another truck driver who was traveling in the same direction as the van and was also involved in the accident.
The footage was a key piece of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the crash, which was ongoing at the time of the report. The CBS News report noted that the at-fault semi driver was a contracted postal carrier at the time the accident occurred. The company he worked for issued a statement claiming that the driver had suffered a health issue that rendered him unconscious just before the wreck happened. However, an attorney for the family of one of the deceased children and her mother—who survived the accident—stated that the company has not provided any evidence proving the claim of a medical condition.
As of July, a reported eight lawsuits were filed following the crash by family members of the deceased as well as surviving victims of the crash. Previously, it was reported that the at-fault driver had a series of traffic infractions before the accident occurred. Although the accident occurred in Florida, the lawsuits were filed in Cook County, Illinois, where the trucking company is located.
Head-on collisions are the most deadly type of crash to have, due to the cumulative effect of the speed of both cars at the time when the collision occurs, and the sudden change in velocity that occurs. When the head-on collision involves a semi-truck that can weigh up to 80,000 and a passenger car that weighs 4,000 pounds or less, the consequences are almost always deadly.
How Common Are Head-On Truck Collisions?
Head-on collisions, also known as frontal impact collisions, happen when two cars traveling in opposite directions collide. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, head-on collisions involving large trucks make up only about 3 percent of all of the large truck crashes each year. The chances of being involved in a head-on collision with a big rig are quite low in comparison to the other types of crashes that one can get into with a tractor-trailer. For example, there are 33,000 rear-end collisions involving a tractor-trailer each year, accounting for more than a quarter of all truck accidents.
How Do Head-On Truck Accidents Occur?
Head-on collisions include some common factors. Didn’t the drivers see another vehicle heading in their direction? Why didn’t they get out of the other vehicle’s way? Why didn’t they stop before they collided?
Head-on collisions most commonly occur on rural or narrow roadways, in which vehicles pass one another by temporarily traveling in the lane designated for opposing traffic. Just as there are many reasons why any vehicle accident occurs, there are many reasons for head-on collisions, as well. Here is a look at some of the more common ones:
- A driver suffers a medical issue or falls asleep. Head-on collisions happen most often at nighttime when visibility is low and there is a high likelihood of driver fatigue due to the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s instinct to sleep at night.
- The driver is alcohol-impaired. Once again, the impairment may cause the driver to leave his or her lane of travel.
- A driver becomes confused and travels the wrong direction on the roadway, on a one-way road, or on a highway ramp, increasing the chance of having a head on collision.
- A driver is speeding. This is a particular cause of concern on rural, winding roadways, as the vehicle may not be able to stay in its lane of travel when negotiating curves. Oncoming traffic will be unable to see the vehicle until it’s too late to avoid hitting it.
- A driver passes another vehicle on an unbroken line on a rural road. The solid line indicates that it is unsafe to pass in that area, yet many drivers still do it.
- A driver is unable to see where his or her lane of travel is due to inclement weather.
- A driver swerves to avoid an obstacle in the roadway—such as another car, animal, person, or debris.
- A driver is distracted by something else, such as texting or reaching for something in the vehicle, and drifts out of his or her lane of travel into oncoming traffic.
- A driver who loses control of their vehicle due to a tire blowout or other vehicle malfunction. Blown tires are a common occurrence with tractor-trailers.
- A driver becomes confused by a construction zone that has altered the lane alignment and winds up traveling into oncoming traffic.
- There is a multi-car pileup that may involve vehicles being pushed into opposing lanes of traffic.
As you can see, the reasons for head-on collisions almost always involve one vehicle leaving its lane of travel, which is one of the hallmark factors of this type of crash. To get a better idea of how a head-on collision with a truck happens, here are some glimpses of more accident reports from around the country:
- A 73-year-old man died in a head-on crash in Colorado in April 2019 after he veered into oncoming traffic and the path of a semi-truck. The truck driver said that he saw the SUV approaching him but was unable to get the truck out of the way in time to avoid the crash. The 73-year-old passenger in the SUV survived the accident with serious injuries. The truck driver suffered minor injuries in the crash. Police investigating the incident reported that speeding was a factor.
- A man died in North Dakota in May 2019 after attempting to flee arrest by stealing a police squad car. The man then crashed the squad car head-on into a semi-truck while driving on the wrong side of the road on Interstate 29. The collision totaled the police car and left the semi-truck disabled and partially in the roadway. A witness to the accident said that the suspect did not even attempt to avoid the collision with the semi, but instead just drove straight into it at a high rate of speed. The driver of the semi was reportedly “shaken up” by the incident but was uninjured.
- In July 2019, a 31-year-old man in Oklahoma died after traveling the wrong way on Interstate 44 in Sapulpa and colliding head-on with a FedEx truck. The FedEx driver was not seriously injured in the crash.
- A woman was killed in Eureka, Kansas, in early August after she attempted to pass another vehicle and crossed the center line into oncoming traffic. Her car was struck head-on by a semi that was traveling in the opposite direction. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the tractor-trailer refused medical treatment.
- In August 2019, a woman was killed in Nebraska when she attempted to pass another vehicle in fog on a two-lane road and failed to see an oncoming semi-truck. The semi driver was not seriously hurt in the collision.
- In August 2019, a 28-year-old man was fighting for his life after he crashed his pickup truck into a semi in Germantown, Wisconsin. Controlled substances were suspected to have been a factor in the crash, based on the man’s previous history and items found at the scene. The driver of the semi suffered non-life threatening injuries.
- A rural Nevada crash between a Nevada Gold Mines bus and a semi in August 2019 killed two people and injured a dozen others. The bus was transporting gold mine employees and the truck was hauling ore when the early morning crash occurred. No details were provided as to who caused the crash.
- In August 2019, a semi-truck crossed the centerline on Secondary Highway 313 near Hardin, Montana and struck a passenger vehicle, killing two men and injuring a woman. The deceased and injured were the occupants of the passenger vehicle. After the collision, the semi continued traveling off the side of the roadway, where it ignited a grass fire. The driver of the semi was described as a 17-year-old male from Hardin who was uninjured. Speed is suspected to be a factor in the crash.
- In September 2019, a Wyoming man died as the result of a head-on collision with a semi-truck on Interstate 80 in Nebraska. Officials said that the man drifted to the shoulder of the interstate, running over the rumble strips. He then over-corrected, lost control of the vehicle, and entered the opposing lane. The man was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene of the afternoon crash. The truck driver attempted to avoid the accident, but was unable to do so. The semi ignited and burned to the ground.
- In September 2019, a former state trooper was killed in Kentucky when he lost control of his pickup truck, drove into oncoming traffic, and struck a commercial truck head-on. The driver of the commercial truck was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The collision forced a several hour road closure as authorities investigated the accident and cleaned up the scene.
Avoiding Head-On Collisions
Not all head-on collisions can be avoided, but many can. Here are some tips to avoid being involved in this type of crash:
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Avoid distractions that will draw your attention to potential hazards up ahead. If you see a vehicle driving in the wrong direction of traffic, quickly slow your vehicle. Flash your lights and honk as a warning to the driver and steer to the right of the driver into any clear area that is available, such as the shoulder of the road. Drive off the road if necessary, as driving into the ditch is generally a safer alternative than having a head-on collision with a semi-truck.
- If you are tired, angry, or not feeling well, avoid driving. Fatigue is one of the most common causes of crashes, and emotional problems can lead to aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, cutting off other drivers, and running red lights. While none of these items will generally cause a head-on collision, a collision with another vehicle could cause you to lose control of your vehicle and cross the centerline.
- Slow down. This is your best option for keeping control of your own vehicle. Additionally, the force of a crash increases with speed. Studies have shown that the best chance to survive a head on collision is by traveling below around 43 miles per hour. The reason for this is that this is the highest speed in which a human body can tolerate the crash forces of an accident. While it is possible to survive a head-on crash at higher speeds, and even a head-on crash involving a semi at higher speeds, the odds of surviving without serious injury severely decrease as the speed at which one is traveling when the accident happens increases.
- Pass carefully, particularly on two-lane roads that require you to use the opposing traffic lane to pass. Never pass on an area of the roadway that is marked with a solid yellow line.
- Pay attention to signs on unfamiliar roadways and in construction zones to avoid any confusion that may put you into the path of a truck traveling in the opposing direction.
If you were injured in an accident, a truck accident lawyer can help you understand the legal process and compensation that may be available to you.