Head-on Collision Motorcycle Accidents

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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A head-on collision is one of the worst types of motorcycle accidents that can happen to a rider, due to the severity of the forces involved and the likelihood of extensive injuries and damage.

What is a Head-on Collision?

A head-on accident occurs when the front end of a motorcycle collides with the front end of another vehicle. There are multiple scenarios where a head-on collision can occur:

  • A vehicle veers into the opposite lane and collides with oncoming traffic.
  • The initial vehicle gets hit or sideswiped by another vehicle, causing it to crash into an oncoming vehicle in a chain reaction.
  • The vehicle swerves to avoid a road obstruction or darting animal and crosses the centerline.
  • The driver is distracted or impaired, causing the vehicle to drift into the opposite lane.
  • A risky overtaking maneuver, especially on blind curves.
  • Excessive speed resulting in loss of control and lane drift.
  • Mechanical defects such as brake failure, stuck accelerator, or defective cruise control, causing the driver to panic and crash into oncoming traffic while attempting to stop or slow down.
  • Environmental factors such as torrential rain or black ice that can cause vehicles to hydroplane and slide into the opposite lane.

How Dangerous are Head-on Collisions for Motorcycles?

A head-on collision is one of the worst possible accidents for motorcycles, due to:

  • The amount of force involved. According to Galilean relativity, a head-on crash between two vehicles traveling at 50mph is equivalent to a 100-mph vehicle crashing into a stationary one.
  • Relative lack of motorcycle safety. By their nature, motorcycles lack the protective devices of passenger cars that can absorb frontal impact and minimize injuries, such as crumple zones, airbags and seatbelts.
  • Gross discrepancy between motorcycles and other vehicles. On average, passenger cars weigh over 4x more as the average motorcycle, resulting in grossly disproportionate mass, inertia and striking force in the event of a collision.
  • Open nature. A motorcycle rider can fall, get crushed, or catapulted over the handlebars and flung a great distance due to the law of conservation of momentum.

According to the NHTSA, 76% of two-vehicle motorcycle crashes involve a head-on collision, compared to just 7% for rear impacts. In addition, while head-on accidents are involved in just 2% of all vehicle crashes in the US, it accounts for 10% of all fatal road accidents.

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Possible Injuries from a Head-on Collision

Head – Concussion, skull fracture, or traumatic brain injuries

Neck – Broken neck, or spinal injuries that result in partial or full-body paralysis

Bones – Broken bones, broken facial structure, fractures, limb damage, or amputation

Internal organs – Soft tissue injuries, internal hemorrhage, organ compression, abdominal compartment syndrome

Skin – Cuts and bruises, road rash, burns or open wounds that require stitching or surgery

Sensory organs – Temporary or permanent eye damage, broken nose, ruptured eardrums

In addition, one study found different injury characteristics between motorcycle riders and passengers involved in a head-on collision:

  • Drivers are more likely to suffer severe chest and abdomen injuries.
  • Drivers have a higher chance of incurring injuries to the hand and perineum.
  • Drivers have a higher fatality rate caused by being run-over compared to passengers.
  • Passengers are more likely to die from tumbling than drivers.

How to Minimize the Chances of a Head-on Collision

As one of the worst possible accidents that can befall motorcycle riders, proactive mitigation measures is your first line of defense from wayward drivers. Such measures include:

  1. Don’t tailgate
    • A driver crossing the median is less likely to hit you if there’s a sufficient gap in front of you.
    • More distance also gives the two of you more time to react and swerve away.
  2. Avoid speeding
    • Likewise, less speed allows more reaction time.
    • It reduces the relative forces that can result from a frontal impact.
    • For motorcycles, it also minimizes chances of going out of control and crossing the centerline.
  3. Drive safely
    • Make sure your helmet and protective gear are in order, as these serve as your only safety cocoon in case of an accident.
    • Avoid overtaking on winding roads or blind curves.
    • Slow down in low light or low visibility weather.
  4. Always be on the lookout
    • Keep track of head-on traffic in your peripheral vision, especially when overtaking or lane splitting.
    • Watch out for signs of drivers in distress, such as flashing lights and frantic honking that can signal an out-of-control vehicle.
    • Be wary of overspeeding or erratic driving in the opposite lane, and keep as far away as possible.
  5. Have professional legal help on call
    • Make sure you know a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accident cases, as these are different from regular auto accidents.
    • Keep the attorney’s number on your phone or business card in your wallet, so they are easily reachable in case of an accident, after informing EMS and your loved ones.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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