Head-On Truck CollisionsBy Stewart J. Guss on October 18th, 2019
Truck-involved head-on collisions make for some of the most horrific crashes on Texas and Louisiana roads. In the stories I’ve linked above, they led to trucks bursting into flames, passenger vehicles mangled beyond recognition, catastrophic injuries, and deaths.
Education equals prevention when it comes to avoiding truck accidents. So in this blog post, I’m going to break down what we know about how and why head-on collisions involving trucks happen, the toll they take on their victims, and what you can do to avoid falling victim to one.
How They Happen Is Clear, But Why They Happen Is Not
Ok, let’s start with the basics. A head-on collision is one where two vehicles collide front-to-front when traveling in opposite directions. They shouldn’t happen, because traffic should never travel in opposing directions in the same lane. When they do happen, it means something has gone seriously wrong, especially when at least one of the vehicles is a large truck.
The most likely scenario for a head-on truck collision involves one vehicle crossing the centerline or median strip, into an oncoming lane, and the path of an oncoming vehicle. Less commonly, head-on collisions can happen when a vehicle drives the wrong-way on a single-direction road.
So what would cause someone to veer into oncoming traffic? Unfortunately, because these accidents often cause fatalities, explanations aren’t necessarily easy to come by. Let’s look at the five accidents linked above as examples (I’m relying on news reporting for these examples, mind you. Other facts could come to light in each of these cases that could change our understanding of the facts. Please read them as illustrations, only).
Fatal Truck Collision Near Livingston, Tangipahoa Parish Line
Two semi-trucks and an SUV collided on Interstate 12. It was daytime. A semi-truck and an SUV, both traveling westbound, collided for unknown reasons and both lost control. The vehicles then crossed a relatively wide center median strip of grass and entered the eastbound lane. There, the semi-truck collided head-on with another semi-truck traveling eastbound. The collision killed both drivers. Though the SUV flipped, its driver escaped without serious injuries.
Head-On Collision Between Semi-Truck and SUV Near Carlyss, Louisiana
A semi-truck and SUV collided head-on while traveling in opposite directions on Highway 27. The crash happened in broad daylight when the SUV crossed the centerline of the two-lane road. The driver of the truck sustained only minor injuries, while the SUV drivers suffered serious injuries that required him to be airlifted to a hospital in Lafayette. Police investigating the accident said they suspected driver distraction led to the SUV crossing the centerline.
Fatal Head-On Truck Crash Near Hico, Texas
Two semi-truck drivers died in a head-on collision so powerful that it caused both of their trucks to burst into flames, sending plumes of smoke into the air that were visible for miles. According to an eyewitness account, one of the trucks crossed the centerline of U.S. Route 281 into the path of the other truck. A third truck tried to swerve to avoid the wreck, but ended up colliding with the first two vehicles. The accident is still under investigation to determine why one of the trucks crossed the centerline. Possible explanations include distraction or driver fatigue.
Serious Injury Car-on-Truck Crash Near Copperas Cove, Texas
A Hyundai sedan crossed the centerline on a long, elevated bridge section of the U.S. Highway 190/Interstate 14 bypass and collided head-on with an 18-wheeler. The driver of the car sustained serious injuries and was flown to a local hospital. The accident happened at 6:30 a.m. Authorities have not yet determined what caused the driver to veer into oncoming traffic. Curiously, the sedan had been traveling westbound (i.e., with its back to the rising sun), which presumably rules out sun glare as an explanation (which is known to cause these types of crashes nationwide).
Violent Head-On Collision Between Big-Rig and Pickup Truck Near Melvin, Texas
At 3:25 a.m., a pickup truck and big-rig collided head-on while traveling in opposite directions on U.S. Highway 87 North outside of Melvin, Texas. The driver of the truck had to be “extracted” from the truck and airlifted to the hospital with severe injuries. Pictures of the accident scene show the pickup truck was completely destroyed, testifying to the violence of the impact. Given the late hour of the accident, many factors could have caused the accident.
What can we take away from these head-on truck accident examples? One conclusion is that these collisions are so violent that it makes it difficult to investigate why they occurred. Some possible (and perhaps likely) factors, however, include driver distraction, fatigue, and impairment. The second is that no matter what leads to one vehicle entering an oncoming lane and colliding with a truck, the results will be catastrophic for at least the driver of a smaller vehicle, and for both drivers in a truck-on-truck accident. How catastrophic? As you can see, fatalities are common. And even when people survive head-on truck crashes, they often suffer severe, life-altering injuries. Read on to learn more.
Common Injuries in Violent Head-On Truck Collisions
There are HUGE size and weight differences between trucks and passenger vehicles. A “truck,” by definition, weighs at least 10,000 pounds. Fully loaded, it can top out around 80,000 pounds. For comparison, your typical mid-size SUV weighs about 4,000 pounds. In other words, a fully-loaded truck is about twenty times as heavy as a car.
In a head-on collision between vehicles with such a wide difference in size and weight, the laws of physics spell devastation for the smaller vehicle. Just look at the pictures of the pickup in the news story about the Melvin, Texas accident. It, and its driver, had no chance of escaping severe harm. Drivers and passengers of smaller vehicles in head-on collisions with trucks, if they survive at all, face a high risk of any of the following injuries:
- Crush injuries and traumatic amputations. When a massive truck destroys a smaller vehicle in a head-on collision, the smaller vehicle’s body ends up mangled beyond recognition. The passenger cabin gets compressed, often pinning the driver and passengers between sharp or flattened metal. The result: limbs crushed or violently amputated. These are life-threatening injuries. They often cause immediate, massive blood loss. If a person survives this type of injury, they will face a long and painful period of recovery, and a lifetime of disability.
- Spinal cord injuries. The violent impact of a head-on collision with a larger, heavier vehicle sends shock waves through the torso of drivers and passengers alike. The spine compresses, expands, and twists unnaturally. The extreme forces exerted on the spinal column often cause structural damage that, in turn, compresses or severs the spinal cord. This commonly leads to temporary or permanent paralysis, and a life complicated by the massive costs associated with recovering from the injury and adapting to a life confined to a wheelchair or mobility device.
- Traumatic brain injury. A head-on collision with a truck will almost always trigger airbags to deploy. But the violence of these crashes is so great that, even with the protection of frontal airbags, drivers and passengers can sustain forceful blows to their heads. These impacts often cause bleeding and swelling inside victims’ skulls, leading to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Common symptoms associated with a major TBI include loss of consciousness (e.g., coma) and severe motor, speech, emotional, and cognitive impairment. Some TBI sufferers may recover functions over time, but many do not.
- Internal injuries. The human body is not built to withstand the shock of a car-on-truck head-on impact. Victims of these accidents frequently sustain life-threatening internal injuries to major organs, such as ruptured spleens and punctured lungs. Not only do these injuries often cause severe internal bleeding, they can also result in chronic health conditions that may never fully resolve.
- Psychological trauma. Anyone who survives a head-on collision with a truck, and remembers it, will likely suffer from lasting emotional trauma. Severe post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression can chase survivors or head-on truck accidents for years, requiring ongoing mental health care and, sometimes, medication.
These are just some of the catastrophic injuries survivors of head-on collisions with trucks can suffer. These accidents are simply the worst of the worst. Anything can happen, and none of it is good.
Avoid Head-On Truck Collisions
Perhaps the scariest thing about head-on collisions involving trucks is that they’re unpredictable. After all, who would ever expect to see a large truck hurtling toward them? That said, there are precautions drivers can take to reduce the chance they will ever end up in one of these horrific collisions. Here are some tips.
Know the High-Risk Areas and Situations
Four of the five accidents described above happened on roads with only a centerline separating opposing lanes of traffic. That doesn’t mean these roads are always unsafe, but it does mean anyone traveling a long, straight, flat, stretch of two-lane road where they’re likely to encounter a truck traveling in the opposite direction should exercise extra caution. For instance, only pass on a two-lane road when you’re sure there’s no traffic coming from the opposite direction. Also, beware of traffic on these roads late at night or early in the morning, as those are times when you run a higher risk of encountering a fatigued or impaired driver.
Follow Blind Spot Best Practices
As the Livingston, Tangipahoa Parish accident described above teaches, a collision between a car and truck traveling in the same direction can cause a head-on crash with another truck traveling in the opposite direction. Whenever you encounter a truck driving in the same direction on the highway, BE CAREFUL OF ITS BLIND SPOTS! A semi-truck has blind spots on all four sides. The largest is the passenger-side blind spot, which is two lanes wide and extends the whole length of the truck. So, NEVER pass a truck in the lane to its right, and move out of blind spots as soon as you can.
Don’t Drive Tired, Impaired, or Distracted
This is kind of a “no, duh” tip, but three major factors contributing to cars leaving their lane and veering into oncoming traffic are fatigue, impairment, and distraction of the car’s driver. OBVIOUSLY, YOU SHOULD NEVER DRINK AND DRIVE. But just as importantly, you should never get behind the wheel without proper rest, or when you’ve taken medication that makes you drowsy, and NEVER text-and-drive (or do other things that take your attention away from the road ahead).
Sometimes road conditions lead to head-on truck collisions. To guard against that happening, always have sunglasses at the ready to protect yourself against road glare (polarized glasses are best). Keep your wipers in good condition, your windshield clean, your tires with reliable tread, and your headlights functioning on all of their settings.
Head-On Truck Collisions Shouldn’t Happen, but They Do. Now What?
So what have we learned? First, that head-on truck collisions should never happen, but they do…A LOT. Second, when they happen, they’re almost always life-altering, if not life-taking. Third, you can protect yourself against these HORRIFYING accidents if you exercise some simple precautions and stay alert behind the wheel.
Sometimes, though, accidents just find you—especially when the trucker is negligent or facing unrealistic expectations from his employer. If your family suffers the terror and tragedy of a head-on collision with a truck, know that you may have legal rights to recover substantial compensation depending on the facts and circumstances of the accident. The best way to learn about your rights is to consult with an experienced head-on truck collision attorney. Not every accident leads to compensation, but many do, even when multiple parties involved share some of the blame for the collision. Contact a Semi Crash lawyer as soon as possible to protect your rights.