Traffic Accidents: Head-on & Rear-end Collisions, Side Impacts (2024)

No two collisions have ever played out in precisely the same way. There are countless different factors that determine the severity of a traffic collision, including the types of vehicles involved, their safety features, whether the drivers are wearing seat belts, the conditions on the roadway and speed. However, the consequences of collisions are often closely linked to the way in which they occur. For instance, head-on collisions are generally the most severe; whereas, vehicles involved in rear-end collisions typically sustain minor damage. If you understand traffic collisions, you will be better able to react appropriately in an emergency.

  1. Head-on collisions
  2. Rear-end collisions
  3. Side-impact collisions
  4. Roll-over in traffic crashes
  5. Single-vehicle collisions
  6. Falling into water
  7. Avoiding collisions

Head-on collisions

“Head-on” describes any collision in which a vehicle collides with an object directly in front of it. This may be a tree, a wall, a trash can, some other object or another vehicle. Most traffic collisions are head-on for one of the drivers involved. Head-on collisions are usually severe as 100 percent of the vehicle’s velocity is directed towards the point of impact. If two vehicles traveling toward each other collide head-on, the consequences are often catastrophic.

When you strike an object head-on, the sudden stop or reduction in speed will result in a powerful forward pitch that throws everything and everyone in the car towards the front of the vehicle. Any person that is not held in place by a seat belt or restraint will continue moving at the speed at which the vehicle was traveling prior to the collision until an immovable object stops them. This may be the dashboard, the rear of a front seat, or the pavement outside the vehicle.

Modern vehicles are designed to crumple during head-on impacts, to absorb some of the energy throwing the occupants forward. Airbags that deploy on impact serve a similar function. As even relatively slow head-on collisions can be deadly, neither of these safety precautions will protect you from serious injury unless you are also wearing your seat belt.

Rear-end collisions

When a vehicle is struck from behind by another object (most commonly, another vehicle) it is known as a rear-end collision. Rear-end collisions are generally less destructive, as the vehicle which has been struck is either stationary or moving directly away from the point of impact. The faster that vehicle is moving, the less forceful the impact will be.

A vehicle that is struck from behind experiences a backward pitch, whereby all the occupants and any loose objects are thrown towards the back of the car. Most vehicles are designed to crumple at the rear during rear-end collisions to lessen the force of impact. Though some, like minivans, are not built with a rear crumple zone. People involved in rear-end crashes are thrown back into their seats and therefore less likely to sustain a serious injury than those experiencing a head-on collision. The most common injury in rear-end collisions is whiplash, a neck injury that occurs when a person’s head snaps backward and forward as the vehicle is struck from behind.

While rear-end collisions are typically not severe, they can sometimes lead to more serious traffic accidents. Often, the vehicle that is struck from behind is shoved forward by the force of the colliding vehicle. If there is nothing ahead of you to halt this forward movement and you were waiting at traffic lights or a stop sign, you could end up being pushed into the path of cross-traffic and struck again from the side.

Monitoring the space behind your vehicle and following proper signaling procedures will reduce your chances of being involved in a rear-end collision. Do your best to maintain a safe cushion of space behind your vehicle by adjusting your position in traffic, though remember that you must not speed up to avoid a tailgater. Whenever you need to slow down or stop, activate your brake lights by lightly tapping the brake pedal before you begin your reduction in speed. This will warn drivers to your rear that you are preparing to slow down, so that you do not take them by surprise.

Maintaining a safe following distance will help you to avoid rear-ending another vehicle. In addition, you should scan the roadway at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead of your current position to look out for changes that may cause the vehicles in front of you to slow down or stop.

Side-impact collisions

Side-impact collisions occur when one vehicle strikes another side-on. Usually, the point of impact is the side of the passenger compartment, which is bad news for anybody occupying the vehicle which has been hit. Crumple zones at the front and rear of most vehicles go a long way to protect occupants during head-on and rear-end collisions, but the side of a vehicle offers no such protection. During a side-on collision, the full forward force of the colliding car will be transferred directly to the passenger compartment. This will throw the driver and passengers side-ways, towards the point of impact. In high-force collisions, windows may be smashed, and the doors of the vehicle will be buckled inwards.

Side-impact collisions are the most common type of collision at intersections and in parking lots. They occur when one of the drivers involved has purposefully of accidentally ignored right-of-way rules. Always respect right-of-way laws and abide by the instructions given by road signs and traffic lights implicitly. Remember that other motorists may not yield when you expect them to. Keep an eye on the streams of traffic feeding into an intersection and be prepared to yield, even when the right-of-way should be yours.

Roll-over in traffic crashes

Serious collisions and traffic accidents sometimes cause one or more of the vehicles involved to roll over. Often, the vehicle that rolls will leave the roadway altogether. Vehicles with a high center of gravity – such as SUVs and pick-ups – are particularly susceptible to rolling over when struck from the side or while performing an evasive turn.

Roll-overs are often deadly for any unrestrained occupants in the vehicle. When a vehicle rolls over multiple times, the people inside it are subject to a strong centrifugal force pulling them towards the outside of the vehicle. In this situation, anybody not wearing a seat belt is likely to be thrown from the car.

Single-vehicle collisions

Single-vehicle collisions happen when a moving car collides with a stationary object. As incidences of hazardous objects being in the roadway itself are relatively rare, single-vehicle collisions usually occur when the driver has lost control of the vehicle and left the roadway. The object they hit may be a tree, a lamppost, a building, a bus shelter or if the occupants are fortunate, something softer like bushes or a sandbank.

Single-vehicle collisions are usually caused by unfit or irresponsible drivers. Most of the time, the driver is either distracted, drunk, asleep or impaired in some other way which renders them unsafe to drive. For this reason, single-vehicle off-road collisions are often fatal for the people involved. The fact that single-vehicle collisions are generally caused by driver-error makes them very easy to avoid. If you pay attention to the road, drive at a speed that is safe for current conditions and stay in your lane, you should be safe from single-vehicle collisions.

Falling into water

Sometimes, a driver who has lost control or their vehicle or swerved evasively to avoid a collision will come off the road and end up in a body of water. While this will lessen the force of impact, deep water poses another threat: drowning. If this happens to you, remaining calm and acting quickly can save your life.

Your first and only priority if your car lands in a lake, river or another deep body of water should be getting yourself and all other occupants out of the vehicle. If you cannot open the doors as your vehicle begins to sink, roll the windows down immediately. It is better to let the car fill up gradually, as opening the windows when it is completely submerged will let in a powerful rush of water that may prevent you from getting out. Once the windows are open, unbuckle your seat belt, take in a large gulp of air and leave the vehicle.

Avoiding collisions

Ultimately, your safety and the safety of your passengers are your responsibility. If you drive attentively, keep your speed to a minimum and avoid taking unnecessary risks, it is highly unlikely you will ever be involved in a serious collision. While it is true that you cannot influence the behavior of nearby motorists who may collide with you, you can predict and avoid potential collisions by maintaining space around your vehicle and acting pre-emptively to stay away from dangerous drivers.

Understanding where conflicts and collisions are likely to occur will help you achieve this! The common causes of traffic collisions are explored in our next module. With this information, you can learn to accurately assess risk in different roadway environments and minimize your chances of being involved in a collision.

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Traffic Accidents: Head-on &  Rear-end Collisions, Side Impacts (2024)


What happens to a person's head and body during the rear-end collision? ›

This puts an enormous amount of pressure on your spine, neck, and head as they hit your seat. This force doesn't stop with your bones. It travels into your organs, muscles, and other soft tissue. If the crash happened at a high speed, your organs and other soft tissue may rupture or otherwise suffer severe damage.

What is a side-impact collision in driving? ›

A side-impact crash is any collision in which one vehicle crashes into the side of another. T-bone car accidents, also called right-angle collisions, occur when one vehicle's front strikes another vehicle's side and are typically associated with intersections where drivers run red lights or stop signs.

What are the 4 types of accidents? ›

The Top Five Classifications of Accidents
  • Accidents at Work. You may be at risk of serious personal injury depending on the type of job you have. ...
  • Car Accidents. This is perhaps the most common of the five classifications of accidents. ...
  • Medical Negligence Accidents. ...
  • Slip (Trip) and Fall Accidents. ...
  • Motorcycle Accidents.

What is the impact of a head-on collision? ›

Head on Collision Common Injuries

Extreme physical trauma is common in a head-on collision, and this trauma can result in broken bones, severe lacerations, burns, or internal injuries. These injuries are typically worse if a victim is pinned inside their vehicle or thrown from it.

What are the side effects of being rear ended? ›

A wide range of mild to serious injuries, including back pain, shoulder injuries, lacerations, whiplash, spinal injuries, and even traumatic brain injury and other head injuries, can result from rear-end collisions. Vehicle accidents may also cause pre-existing conditions such as degenerative disc disease to worsen.

How long does it take to recover from a head-on collision? ›

Concussions can range from mild to severe, however even mild concussions require a recovery period. On average, it takes approximately 7-10 days to recover from a concussion. However, this can vary from individual to individual and you may continue to experience concussion symptoms for longer than 7-10 days.

Does a head-on collision double the impact? ›

A head-on collision occurs when two cars traveling in opposite directions crash into each other. These auto accidents are among the most dangerous because the force of the impact is doubled due to the traveling speed of each vehicle.

Is head-on or side collision worse? ›

The deadliest type of car crash is the head-on accident because the impact combines the speed and force of both vehicles, not just one.

What are the 3 points of impact in a collision? ›

The three types of impact that occur (in succession) are those involving the vehicle, the body of the vehicle occupant, and the organs within the body of the occupant.

What are the 3 causes of accidents? ›

There are three basic causes of workplace accidents: chance occurrences, unsafe conditions, and employees' unsafe acts.

What is the most common cause of head-on collision? ›

Head-on collisions are usually caused by a driver going the wrong way on a road or crossing a double yellow line into oncoming traffic. This can happen for many reasons including driver confusion, fatigue, intoxication, distracted driving or vehicle defects.

What injuries can you get from a head-on collision? ›

Extreme physical trauma is a common result of a head-on collision. This trauma can lead to broken bones, burns, internal injuries, and severe lacerations. The injuries are worse if the victim gets thrown from their car or pinned inside the vehicle.

What are examples of head-on collision? ›

These types of vehicular crashes usually occur when two vehicles that are driving in opposite directions collide into one another. They can happen with a car, truck, or motorcycle. When a car strikes a stationary object, such as a tree, light pole, or cement barrier, it could also be classified as a head-on collision.

How bad is a rear-end collision? ›

Rear-end collisions often cause back injuries because the lower and middle back could move back and forth with a sudden violent motion. The movement flattens and/or disrupts the spine's natural curve. This impact could damage the spinal cord, disrupting the message-sending capabilities of the spinal cord.

What is the most common injury when rear-ended? ›

Whiplash. Rear-end crashes cause about 85 percent of car accident-related neck injuries. This type of pain can mean you have a whiplash or Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) injury. Whiplash can be treated, but even with the best treatment, some people with this injury will never fully recover.

Who gets hurt worse in a rear-end collision? ›

The person who is rear-ended is almost always injured to a greater degree than the person who hit them. The major factor at play in why this happens is muscle bracing. The person who is in the primary vehicle has more time to brace for impact.

Can you go back to normal after head injury? ›

As symptoms improve, you may gradually return to regular activities. Recovery from a mild TBI or concussion means you can do your regular activities without experiencing symptoms. Recovery from a mild TBI or concussion may be slower among: Older adults.

How long do head injury side effects last? ›

Some mild TBI and concussion symptoms may appear right away, while others may not appear for hours or days after the injury. Symptoms generally improve over time, and most people with a mild TBI or concussion feel better within a couple of weeks. Symptoms of mild TBI and concussion are different for each person.

What are good signs after a head injury? ›

Symptoms of minor head injuries
  • a mild headache.
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness.
  • mild blurred vision.
May 24, 2023

Who is wrong in a head-on collision? ›

The answer for who is at fault in a head-on collision is usually the driver who was traveling in the wrong direction. For example, a drunk driver starts to weave from side to side. They swerve so far into the other side of the road that they enter the lane of oncoming traffic.

Is a head-on collision the worst possible crash? ›

Head-On Collisions

By far the deadliest accident type is the head-on collision. Head-on collisions consider both vehicle's speed at the time of the crash, which means even an accident at lower speeds can be catastrophic.

Can a head-on collision cause a concussion? ›

Unfortunately, concussions are just one of many injuries you can suffer as a result of a car crash. If you have a concussion, or suspect you have one, it is vital to seek medical attention right away.

What's the worst type of collision? ›

Head-On Collisions

One of the most dangerous types of car accidents is a head-on collision. Because these crashes involve the full force of both vehicles colliding head-on, they have the potential to cause significant damage and even death.

How common are head-on collisions? ›

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 25 percent of all crashes between motor vehicles across the United States are head-on collisions, the second most common type of collision.

What is a high impact collision? ›

High impact car accidents are often the result of vehicles crashing at high speeds. When two vehicles collide at high speed, or a stopped vehicle is hit by a vehicle traveling at high speed, the injuries are often incredibly severe or fatal.

What is an example of impact of collision? ›

Impact occurs when two bodies collide during a very short time period, causing large impulsive forces to be exerted between the bodies. Common examples of impact are a hammer striking a nail or a bat striking a ball. The line of impact is a line through the mass centers of the colliding particles.

What is the difference between impact and collision? ›

collision, also called impact, in physics, the sudden, forceful coming together in direct contact of two bodies, such as, for example, two billiard balls, a golf club and a ball, a hammer and a nail head, two railroad cars when being coupled together, or a falling object and a floor.

What are the 5 biggest causes of road accidents? ›

Start taking preventative measures by keeping these events in mind the next time you drive.
  • Distracted Driving. One of the top causes of car accidents can be blamed on distracted driving. ...
  • Drunk Driving. ...
  • Speeding. ...
  • Running Red Lights and Stop Signs. ...
  • Reckless Driving. ...
  • Aggressive Driving. ...
  • Fatigue. ...
  • Weather Conditions.
May 16, 2023

What is the most common accident? ›

Rear-End Collisions: the Most Common Type of Accident

As their name suggests, rear-end collisions occur when one vehicle strikes the back of another vehicle, says the NHTSA.

What are the 10 examples of unintentional injuries? ›

Unintentional Injuries
  • Bicycle-Related.
  • Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Cold-Related Illnesses.
  • Falls.
  • Fire-Related.
  • Heating.
  • Heat-Related Illnesses.
  • Holiday/Toy-Related.

What are the two most common causes of accidents? ›

The 12 Most Common Causes of Car Accidents
  • Distracted Driving. Undoubtedly, distracted driving is the number one cause of car accidents. ...
  • Speeding. ...
  • Drunk Driving. ...
  • Reckless Driving. ...
  • Inclement Weather. ...
  • Running Intersections. ...
  • Teenagers. ...
  • Night Driving.
Mar 2, 2022

What are the 5 types of injuries? ›

Let's take a look at some common types of injuries and how they affect your body.
  • Bruises. A bruise or muscle contusion can result when you fall or hit a hard surface or piece of equipment. ...
  • Sprains. ...
  • Strains. ...
  • Burns. ...
  • Fractures. ...
  • Animal Bites. ...
  • Urgent Care for Sports Injuries in Rochester, NY.
Nov 26, 2021

What is the unsafe act? ›

Any activity by workers which are not as per the prescribed safety standard or practice and which can cause or likely to cause accidents or risk for self or others at workplace, damage equipment and bring losses in terms of reputations and revenue to employer .

What are the 5 causes of accident? ›

5 Common Causes of Car Accidents
  • Driving under the influence. Drunk driving is a careless action that too many people take. ...
  • Distracted driving. Too many drivers are distracted while operating their vehicles. ...
  • Reckless driving. ...
  • Illegally driving through intersections. ...
  • Drowsiness.

What are 3 ways to prevent accidents? ›

Preventing accidents is easy when you know what to do.
  1. Develop the right attitude about driving. ...
  2. Get as much supervised practice driving as possible. ...
  3. ALWAYS wear your safety belt. ...
  4. Underage drinking and drug use is illegal. ...
  5. Limit your passengers. ...
  6. Limit your night driving. ...
  7. Keep it slow and safe for starters.

Which way does your body go in a rear-end collision? ›

Rear-End Collision Injuries

This forces your car forward suddenly which in-turn causes your body to snap forward and back with excessive force. The speed of the vehicle that hit you determines the amount of force transferred to you, which is why high-speed rear-end collisions are so dangerous.

What head injury can you get from being rear ended? ›

When you experience whiplash in a rear-end crash, you can also suffer one of the following types of traumatic brain injury (TBI): Concussion. Usually considered a mild form of TBI, a concussion can cause long-term effects, including headaches, dizziness, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.

Which way does your head go when rear ended? ›

Whiplash frequently occurs in a rear-end accident due to the acceleration forces placed on the neck muscles. When someone is rear-ended, they rapidly move from a position of rest to a high rate of speed. This creates forces on the neck causing the head to move back quickly and then forward.

What is the most common injury related with a rear-end collision? ›

Whiplash. Rear-end crashes cause about 85 percent of car accident-related neck injuries. This type of pain can mean you have a whiplash or Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) injury. Whiplash can be treated, but even with the best treatment, some people with this injury will never fully recover.

When should I see a doctor about back pain after car accident? ›

It's best to see a doctor as soon as possible if you have back pain after a car accident. Even if you don't have any symptoms of an injury, consider seeing a healthcare professional to examine you. Injuries may not be immediately apparent and back pain may not start for several days after a collision.

How long does back pain last after a rear-end collision? ›

Duration of Back Pain After a Rear-End Collision

In the case of whiplash, back pain can last for days, weeks, or months. However, in severe cases, pain from whiplash can stick around for years. This is why it's crucial to receive treatment ASAP.

What happens if you get hit hard in the back of the head? ›

You may be dizzy or disoriented right afterward. You also may have problems focusing or remembering. Other symptoms include ringing in your ears, neck pain, emotional or vision problems. These symptoms often go away in a few weeks but may last longer if the injury is severe.

What are the side effects of getting hit in the back of the head? ›

They may include:
  • a mild headache.
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • mild dizziness.
  • mild blurred vision.
May 24, 2023

Are you ever the same after a head injury? ›

“Any type of brain injury, regardless of severity, can cause personality changes — and some patients may not experience any personality changes at all,” said Dr. Thomas. For patients who do experience personality changes, common symptoms include: Becoming quick to anger or frustration.

Why does my lower back hurt after a rear-end accident? ›

Strains and Sprains: Back strains and sprains are very common after being rear-ended in a car crash. Most strains and sprains can cause muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower back to tear or overstretch. This can cause acute low back pain, muscle spasms, and muscle tightness.

How much damage can a rear-end collision cause? ›

The impact from a rear-end collision can also damage your car's drivetrain. The force can move the exhaust system forward, resulting in damage to the catalytic converter, exhaust manifold, muffler, engine mounts and the “Y” pipe that runs to your engine.

Can you get a concussion from a rear-end collision? ›

Can a low-speed rear-end collision cause a concussion? Yes. Contrary to what insurance companies might claim, people often sustain concussions in low-speed rear-end accidents. It doesn't take much to damage brain cells in a car accident, especially if you were in a stopped car hit from behind.

What is the most damaging type of collision? ›

By far the deadliest accident type is the head-on collision. Head-on collisions consider both vehicle's speed at the time of the crash, which means even an accident at lower speeds can be catastrophic.


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