A multi-vehicle collision (colloquially known as a pile-up or chain-reaction crash) is a road traffic accident involving many vehicles. Generally occurring on high capacity and high speed routes such as freeways, they are one of the deadliest forms of traffic accidents. The most disastrous pile-ups have involved more than a hundred vehicles.
Pile-ups generally occur in low-visibility conditions as drivers on freeways are sometimes caught out by driving too close to the vehicle in front and not adjusting to the road conditions.
Due to the high traffic speeds on the road, if one car develops a problem and suddenly halts, those behind it cannot stop in time and may hit it. Considering that these roads often have high traffic volumes, more cars are forced into braking and skidding, darting into other lanes and in front of oncoming traffic and so more vehicles become involved, creating a chain reaction effect.
Multiple-vehicle collisions are particularly deadly as the mass of crumpled vehicles makes escape for survivors difficult. Even if a survivor is able to exit their vehicle, another car may strike them. Individual vehicles in a multiple-vehicle collision are often hit multiple times at high speed, increasing the risk of injury to passengers who may have survived the first impact with the benefit of now-discharged protective airbags. Collisions after the initial collision may occur from the side of the vehicle, where the passenger compartment is more vulnerable.
A fire in one part of the accident can quickly spread via spilled gasoline and cover the entire crash area. Multiple-vehicle collisions can also overwhelm local firefighting, ambulance, and police services making speedy rescues more difficult. If the accident takes place in a remote area, getting medical help to the scene can be a daunting task.
The destruction and intense heat of fires can also damage roadways, particularly by melting and burning the asphalt or spalling concrete surfaces. The structural steel of bridges and overpasses can also be weakened by the heat. A fiery pileup inside a tunnel is the most serious, as there is little means to escape the poisonous fumes, and the confined heat may damage structural supports.
The large scale of these accidents can close important highway routes for several days, or even longer if highway support structures are damaged.
|22 November 1999||2||29||83||Interstate 70 in Golden, Colorado, United States, when a car spun out in the westbound lanes in heavy snow and fog, then was hit by other vehicles as it attempted to resume westbound travel.|
|12 March 1990||3||30||52||Interstate 43 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, United States, on the Tower Drive Bridge over the Fox River, due to very heavy fog; fiery crash involved 52 vehicles; 3 deaths and more than 30 injuries. A fog warning system was immediately installed, and bridge lighting was installed in the mid 2000s, after more fog related issues.|
|11 December 1990||12||42||99||Interstate 75 in Calhoun, Tennessee, United States, between Chattanooga and Knoxville near the Hiwassee River, due to very heavy fog; fiery crash involved 99 vehicles; 12 deaths and 42 injuries. A fog warning system has since been installed, and the highway patrol enforces speed limits aggressively.|
|13 March 1991||10||51||51||M4 in Hungerford, Berkshire, United Kingdom, between Membury and Hungerford due to very heavy fog; fiery crash involved 51 vehicles; 10 deaths. A van driver either fell asleep or swerved to miss a pigeon, in the outside lane. Huge pile-up ensured.|
|October 1991||1||64||150||A15 Motorway near Ochten, Netherlands, due to fog, 150 vehicles, 1 death, 64 injuries.|
|2 December 1994||67||127||Interstate 35 in San Antonio, Texas, United States, 127 car pile-up caused by blinding glare and rain-slicked roads, 67 injuries.|
|20 March 1995||1||90||200||Jubilee Parkway in Mobile, Alabama, United States, due to fog, 200 vehicles, 1 death, 90 injuries.|
|27 February 1996||10||80||200||E17 motorway near Nazareth, Belgium, due to fog.|
|10 March 1997||3||60||160||M42 motorway in the United Kingdom, due to fog – 160 vehicles involved, 3 deaths, 60 injuries.|
|31 December 1998||1||39||114||114 cars crashed during whiteout conditions and  a snow-slicked section of N/B Interstate-75 in central Michigan, just north of Grayling, killing one and injuring 39.|
|3 September 1999||8||33||87||Highway 401 in Essex County, Ontario, Canada, just east of Windsor. Very dense fog and tailgating causes an 87-vehicle pile-up, killing 8, and injuring 33 more.|
|February 2001||131||Interstate 95 in Stafford County, Virginia, United States, 131 vehicles plus two others nearby totaling 80 more, due to a snowstorm whiteout.|
|March 2002||125||Interstate 75 in Catoosa County, Georgia, United States, due to one-time sudden fog, about 125 vehicles|
|11 October 2002||10||36||50||Interstate 43 in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, United States, just north of the Ozaukee-Sheboygan county line. Involved 50 vehicles due to dense fog. Considered the worst multiple-vehicle collision in Wisconsin history.|
|3 November 2002||0||41||216||Interstate 710 in Los Angeles County, California, United States, around 200 vehicles, due to dense fog.|
|23 May 2003||2||64||90||Interstate 68 in Garrett County, Maryland, United States, approximately 90 vehicles involved in accident near the I-68 cut on Big Savage Mountain. Heavy fog was blamed for the accident.|
|6 January 2004||6||17||50||Interstate 80 in Centre County, Pennsylvania, United States, around 50 vehicles, due to poor visibility during a white out snow squall, leaving 6 dead and 17 injured.|
|12 January 2005||2||35||200||Interstate 96 in Ingham County, Michigan, United States, around 200 vehicles, due to dense fog leaving 2 dead and 35 injured.|
|5 November 2007||2||dozens||100||Highway 99 south of Fresno, California, United States, due to the tule fog that occurs frequently in fall and winter; involved more than 100 vehicles, killed at least 2 and injured dozens of others.|
|6 January 2008||2||100||Two people are killed as 100 cars pile up on Interstate 90 near Madison, Wisconsin.|
|9 January 2008||4||38||70||Four people were killed and as many as 38 injured in a major pileup on Interstate 4 in north central Florida involving 70 vehicles, as fog mixed with smoke from a controlled fire that reached out-of-control proportions combined to make it almost impossible for motorists to see.|
|20 January 2008||100||More than 100 vehicles crashed into each other on Highway 400 near Toronto due to bad weather conditions.|
|11 March 2008||3||277||60||Around 6.39 am UAE time a series of vehicle crashes occurred, involving cars, SUVs, buses and trucks, because of heavy fog on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway near Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, leading to the worst ever crash and multi-vehicle pileup in the country’s history. According to Dubai based Gulf News and Reuters the incident killed 3 people and injured 277, involving 60 vehicles from which 25 caught fire according to Abu Dhabi Police.|
|20 March 2008||0||33||231||231 vehicles round about number of foci crashed at highway D1 in Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic. About 30 people were injured, 3 of them seriously. Nobody was killed.|
|25 March 2008||1||6||60||A near 60 vehicle pile-up in heavy snow on Austria's main east-west highway causes one death with six injuries.|
|11 January 2009||50+||"More than 50 cars..." in Derry, New Hampshire|
|19 January 2009||35||A 35-car pileup occurs during a snowstorm on Interstate 70 in Myersville, Maryland.|
|19 July 2009||Dozens||259||Dozens of people injured, 10 critically, when 259 vehicles were involved in a pile-up due to heavy rain on the German Autobahn A2 near Braunschweig in Lower Saxony.|
|13 December 2009||52||56||56 cars involved in a pile-up on Route 110 in Shelton, Connecticut due to black ice resulting in 46 injuries and six hospitalizations, but no deaths or life-threatening injuries.|
|23 December 2009||36||43||M27 motorway 20 vehicles involved in a pile up westbound at Rownhams services and another 23 eastbound between J7 for Hedge End and Botley and J8 for Bursledon and Netley due to severe black ice, freezing fog and deep snow. 36 people injured.|
|10 February 2010||7||50||Near Williamsburg, Virginia, whiteout conditions during the morning around 9:00 am EST 10 February led to a fifty-car pileup on a stretch of westbound I-64. The accident took hours to clear, and seven people suffered minor injuries requiring hospitalization.|
|14 February 2010||13||140||In the Kansas City area, several pileups involving 140 vehicles, including two Greyhound buses was caused by whiteout conditions. The largest pileup, involving 40 vehicles along I-70 and K-7 near the city of Bonner Springs, Kansas. No fatalities or critical injuries were reported. The accident closed I-70 for several hours so emergency workers and crews could clean up the area. The same day, also in the Kansas City metro area, a separate pileup caused by whiteout conditions, involving at least 20 vehicles closed parts of I-35 near 87th Street. No fatalities or serious injuries were reported there as well. The accident sent 13 people to area hospitals.|
|16 November 2010||2||16||75||Interstate 77 in Carroll County, Virginia-Virginia State Police determined that a total of 75 vehicles were involved in crashes in both the northbound and southbound lanes of I-77 between the 4 and 7 mile markers in the area of Fancy Gap, Virginia. Heavy fog resulting in zero visibility was determined to be the cause of the accidents.|
|8 April 2011||8||131||80+||An 80-car pileup occurs during a sandstorm on Autobahn 19 near Rostock, Germany (both directions). 8 death and 131 injured people.|
|15 September 2011||1||49||300||Rodovia dos Imigrantes at São Paulo, Brazil. around 300 vehicles involved in an accident due to heavy fog. Several injuries and one person dead.|
|4 November 2011||7||51||34||Near Taunton, Somerset, England. 34 vehicles involved in an accident near Junction 25 on the M5 motorway near Taunton due to fog and heavy rain. 7 confirmed deaths reported and 51 injured.|
|1 December 2011||1||16–18||176||Tennessee State Route 386 (Vietnam Veterans Boulevard) and Saundersville Road near Hendersonville in Sumner County, Tennessee, United States, north of Nashville, due to "heavy, heavy fog"; three separate chain-reaction crashes involving 176 vehicles; 1 death and 16–18 injuries. A fog advisory was not in effect for the area at the time of the crashes.|
|3 December 2011||1||14||134||Istanbul Trans European Motorway 134 cars involved with 1 dead, 14 injured, due to heavy fog and slippery road.|
|3 February 2012||-||+40||+100||European route E75 Helsinki, Finland more than 100 cars involved with more than 40 injured (1 critically), due to heavy snow and slippery road.|
|29 December 2011||2||59||40||I-10 in New Orleans, Louisiana; About 40 vehicles involved with at least 50 injuries (22 serious), due to heavy fog and smoke from a nearby ongoing marsh fire in New Orleans East.|
|5 October 2012||0||52||47||Interstate I-75 Southbound Sarasota/Manatee County line, Florida. On University Blvd. overpass 47 vehicles in 12 separate crashes, due to white-out rain.|
|22 November 2012||2||100||100+||Interstate I-10 – Both directions – Jefferson County line, Texas. 150-vehicle pileup on foggy Texas highway leaves 2 dead, 100 hurt.|
|15 January 2013||1||46||100||European route E4 Helsingborg. On University Blvd. One person died and more than 40 were injured on the E4 motorway near Helsingborg, southwestern Sweden, after an estimated 100 vehicles crashed into one another due to dense fog and slippery road conditions.|
|21 January 2013||1||27||103||Interstate 275 – Cincinnati, Ohio. Flash snowburst caused a large pileup with many injuries. A 12-year-old girl was killed.|
|21 January 2013||0||9||52||Interstate 75 – Middletown, Ohio. Flash snowburst caused a large pileup. Same storm as Cincinnati 103 vehicle accident that killed a 12 year girl.|
|25 January 2013||0||5||80||Highway 401 east of Oshawa – Ontario, Canada.|
|31 January 2013||3||20+||35+||Interstate 75 - Detroit, Michigan. Flash snowburst caused a pile-up along an urbanized section of Interstate 75 in Detroit, killing a 46-year-old Allen Park man, and two children from nearby Windsor, Ontario.|
|31 March 2013||3||25||95||Interstate 77 in Carroll County, Virginia approximately 95 vehicles were involved in an accident on the southbound lane of I-77 near the base of Fancy Gap Mountain near Fancy Gap, Virginia. Virginia State Police say that excessive fog could be to blame for the accident. Three people were killed.|
|5 September 2013||0||60||130+||60 people were injured as more than 130 vehicles were involved in a series of crashes in thick fog on the A249 Sheppey crossing in Kent, UK.|
|3 December 2013||2||67||132||One person was killed and 67 injured as 132 vehicles were involved in a triple chain collision in thick fog on the A19 in Zonnebeke, Belgium. A second person died four days later.|
Multiple vehicle collisions can occur in the restricted courses used in motorsports as well, most commonly after a green flag (on road courses) being waved following a warm-up lap during the start of the race. Reporters and fans apply subjective guidelines as to what threshold needs to be crossed before a simple on-track incident can be described as such. NASCAR fans, for example, talk about 'The Big One', where many cars can be involved in a wreck while running close together.
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