What To Do After A Head-On Collision

close-up of a head-on collision between two vehicles

Head-on collisions are a particularly devastating type of accident, accounting for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities related to roadway departures between 2016 and 2018. These collisions occur for various reasons, some due to negligence and others due to unforeseen circumstances. Regardless, they can result in severe injuries or even death. Read our article to learn more about what happens during and after a head-on collision, and what to do if you or someone you know was involved in a crash. 

What is a Head-On Collision?

As the name suggests, a head-on collision happens when the front ends of two vehicles collide with each other while traveling in opposite directions. These accidents typically occur on undivided roads, highways, or during overtaking maneuvers. Due to the combined force of both vehicles’ speeds, head-on collisions often result in severe damage and injuries to the drivers, passengers, and sometimes pedestrians involved.

A head-on collision may also occur when a vehicle crashes into a stationary object, such as a tree, stoplight, or median. Head-on collisions are also sometimes referred to as “frontal” accidents. They are considered a type of “roadway departure accident” (see below). 

What is a Roadway Departure?

A “roadway departure” refers to a type of traffic incident where a vehicle veers off the intended path of travel and leaves the roadway. This departure can occur for various reasons, such as driver error, adverse weather conditions, mechanical failure, or external factors like road hazards or obstructions.

Roadway departures can take several forms, including:

Running off the Road: this occurs when a vehicle drifts or veers unintentionally onto the shoulder or grass verge beside the roadway. Running off the road may happen due to distractions, drowsiness, or overcorrection while steering. Safety measures, such as rumble strips, can help drivers avoid this type of roadway departure. 

Crossing the Centerline: in this scenario, a vehicle crosses over into the opposing lane of traffic, increasing the risk of a head-on collision. Factors such as distracted driving, impairment, or inadequate visibility can contribute to crossing the centerline. Clearly marked lane dividers or centerline rumble strips on undivided roadways are important in avoiding a potential accident.  

Overturning: some roadway departures result in the vehicle overturning or rolling over, especially when drivers lose control at high speeds or encounter sharp curves. Overturning accidents can lead to serious injuries or fatalities, particularly if occupants are ejected from the vehicle or trapped inside.

Colliding with Objects: vehicles may depart the roadway and collide with fixed objects such as guardrails, trees, utility poles, or signage. Again, this may occur due to negligent operation of a vehicle or because of factors out of the driver’s control. This is a type of head-on collision that can cause significant damage to vehicles and result in injuries to occupants.

Negligent Causes of a Head On Collision

In many cases, the reason behind a head-on collision is related to the negligence of one driver. Some of the top negligent causes of these types of crashes include:

Distracted Driving: when drivers are distracted by texting, eating, or attending to other activities, they may unintentionally drift into opposing lanes.  

Impaired Driving: operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs significantly impairs judgment, coordination, and reaction time, increasing the likelihood of veering into oncoming traffic.

Fatigue: drowsy driving can mimic the effects of alcohol impairment, leading to lane departures and potential head-on collisions.

Speeding: driving at excessive speeds reduces the time available to react to hazards, making it difficult to maneuver or stop in time to avoid a collision.

Incorrect Overtaking: attempting to overtake vehicles in unsafe conditions, such as on curves or hills, can lead to head-on collisions if drivers misjudge distances or fail to see oncoming traffic.

Inclement Weather: bad weather can increase the chance of skidding and may also reduce visibility, increasing the risk of an accident. While drivers cannot control the weather, they should only operate a vehicle when they feel it is safe to do so. If the weather is so bad that they cannot see, drivers should pull over and wait out the storm. 

Other Causes of Head On Crashes

Of course, it is not always the driver’s fault when a head-on collision occurs. Natural and man-made hazards can also cause an accident. For example:

Poor Signage/Lighting: inadequate street lighting can obscure road signs and markings, increasing the risk of inadvertently crossing into opposing lanes. Likewise, failure to warn drivers of approaching sharp turns, establish a clear speed limit, or indicate upcoming potential hazards (such as animal crossing) may be to blame in a head-on accident.

Road Debris: the presence of debris in a poorly maintained road may lead a driver to swerve suddenly to avoid it. If a vehicle is approaching in the other direction, a sideswipe or head-on collision may occur. 

What Injuries Can Occur As A Result of A Head-On Collision?

Head-on collisions often result in severe injuries due to the substantial impact forces involved. Common injuries include:

Whiplash: sudden deceleration can cause neck and spinal injuries, resulting in whiplash symptoms such as neck pain, stiffness, and headaches.

Fractures: the force of impact can lead to fractures in the limbs, ribs, or pelvis, causing severe pain and impairment.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs):  head-on collisions can cause the head to strike against hard surfaces, resulting in concussions, contusions, or more severe TBIs, leading to cognitive impairments and long-term disabilities.

Internal Injuries: the impact can cause damage to internal organs, such as Seat Belt Syndrome, leading to bleeding, organ perforation, or internal hemorrhage, which may require immediate medical intervention.

Determining Fault in Head-On Collisions

Determining fault in head-on collisions depends on the circumstances of the accident. Factors such as traffic laws, road conditions, and driver behavior are considered in determining liability. Typically, the driver who crossed into opposing traffic or failed to yield the right of way is deemed at fault for the collision. However, exceptions may apply, such as cases involving mechanical failure or hazardous road conditions. 

Although rare, it may also be found that both drivers were partially to blame for the accident. In this case, a personal injury attorney can help you seek compensation under Colorado’s comparative negligence laws. 

When to Hire a Head-On Collision Attorney

If you or someone you know has been in a head-on collision, it is very important to speak with a personal injury attorney. In the aftermath of a bad accident, navigating legal proceedings and insurance claims can be overwhelming, especially while recovering from injuries. Personal injury attorneys specialize in advocating for accident victims, assisting them in pursuing compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages incurred due to the collision.

In Colorado, the skilled attorneys at Roth Group Law are here to help. We provide each client with expert guidance and support throughout the legal process, helping to alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty faced by accident victims and their families. Call or go online today to schedule a free case evaluation