Head-on collision

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Head-on collision with two cars involved
Standard wrong-way sign package used on all freeway off-ramps in the state of California to prevent head-on collisions.[1]

A head-on collision is a traffic collision where the front ends of two vehicles such as cars, trains, ships or planes hit each other when travelling in opposite directions, as opposed to a side collision or rear-end collision.

Rail transport[edit]

A part of a R. R. Reck (Wreck) on the Houston and Sreaves Poart (Shreaveport) R. R. 8 Miles North of Lufkin, Texas February 27, 1895.[2]

With railways, a head-on collision occurs most often on a single line railway. This usually means that at least one of the trains has passed a signal at danger, or that a signalman has made a major error. Head-on collisions may also occur at junctions, for similar reasons. In the early days of railroading in the United States, such collisions were quite common and gave to the rise of the term "Cornfield Meet".[3] As time progressed and signalling became more standardized, such accidents became less frequent. Even so, the term still sees some usage in the industry. The origins of the term are not well known, but it is attributed to accidents happening in rural America where farming and cornfields were common. The first known usage of the term was in the mid-19th century.

The distance required for a train to stop is usually greater than the distance that can be seen before the next blind curve, which is why signals and safeworking systems are so important.

List of collisions[edit]

Note: if the collision occurs at a station or junction, or trains are travelling in the same direction, then the collision is not a pure head-on collision

Date Name Location Cause Deaths Injuries Ref
September 10, 1874 Thorpe rail accident Thorpe St Andrew, Norfolk, England Single-line telegraphic working error 25 75
August 7, 1876 Radstock rail accident Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, England Single-line telegraphic working error 15
September 15, 1896 Crash at Crush "Crush", McLennan County, Texas, United States Intentional publicity stunt to dispose of obsolete engines 2 6+
September 24, 1904 New Market train wreck New Market, Tennessee, United States Engineer error 56 - 113 106
July 9, 1918 Great Train Wreck of 1918 Nashville, Tennessee, United States Human error 101 171
January 26, 1921 Abermule train collision Abermule, Montgomeryshire, Wales Single-line token error 17 36
October 20, 1957 Yarımburgaz train disaster Yarımburgaz, Küçükçekmece, İstanbul Allowing two trains into same occupied block section by signalmen 95 150
November 16, 1960 Stéblová train disaster Stéblová, Czechoslovakia Collision 118 110
February 7, 1969 Violet Town rail accident Violet Town, Victoria, Australia Driver heart attack 9 117
May 27, 1971 Dahlerau train disaster Dahlerau, Radevormwald, West Germany Not determined 46 25
May 4, 1976 Schiedam train disaster Near Schiedam, Netherlands Error by the chief conductor

and the driver of Stoptrein 4116, lack of ATB

August 28, 1979 Nijmegen train collision Between Wijchen and Nijmegen, Netherlands 8 36
July 25, 1980 Winsum train collision Winsum, Groningen Head-on-collision 9 21
September 11, 1985 Moimenta-Alcafache train crash Mangualde, Portugal Collision 49
February 8, 1986 Hinton train collision Dalehurst, Alberta, Canada Locomotive engineer fatigue

Conductor error

23 71
February 17, 1986 Queronque rail accident Limache, Marga Marga Province, Chile Human error 58+ 510
October 19, 1987 1987 Bintaro train crash Bintaro, Tangerang, Indonesia Human error 156 ± 300
March 6, 1989 Glasgow Bellgrove rail crash Bellgrove, Glasgow, Scotland Signal Passed At Danger 2
July 21, 1991 Newton (South Lanarkshire) rail accident Newton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland Signal Passed At Danger, inadequate junction layout 4 22
October 15, 1994 Cowden rail crash Cowden railway station, Kent, England Signal Passed At Danger 5 13
January 14, 1996 Hines Hill train collision Hines Hill, Western Australia Signal Passed At Danger 2
August 12, 1998 Suonenjoki rail collision Suonenjoki, Finland Misinterpretation of signals, possible signal malfunction 0 26
August 2, 1999 Gaisal train disaster Gaisal, Uttar Dinajpur, West Bengal, India Human error 285 >300
October 5, 1999 Ladbroke Grove rail crash Ladbroke Grove, London, England Signal Passed At Danger 31 417
January 4, 2000 Åsta accident Åsta, Åmot, Norway 19
January 7, 2005 Crevalcore train crash Crevalcore, Italy
September 22, 2006 Lathen train collision Lathen, Germany Human error 23 11 [4]
October 11, 2006 Zoufftgen train collision Zoufftgen, Lorraine, France Human error 6 20
September 12, 2008 2008 Chatsworth train collision Los Angeles, California, United States Signal Passed At Danger 25 135
February 15, 2010 Halle train collision Buizingen, Halle, Belgium Running of a red signal 19 171
January 29, 2011 Hordorf train collision Hordorf, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany 10 23
April 21, 2012 Sloterdijk train collision Westerpark, Amsterdam, Netherlands Suspected Signal Passed At Danger 1 116
February 9, 2016 Bad Aibling rail accident Bad Aibling, Bavaria, Germany Signalman's error 12 85
July 12, 2016 Andria-Corato train collision Andria, Apulia, Italy Under investigation; possible human error 23 54
November 15, 2017 Joo Koon rail accident Joo Koon MRT station, Singapore Software-related issue 0 38

Sea transport[edit]

With shipping, there are two main factors influencing the chance of a head-on collision. Firstly, even with radar and radio, it is difficult to tell what course the opposing ships are following. Secondly, big ships have so much momentum that it is very hard to change course at the last moment.

Road transport[edit]

A Ford Escort automobile that has been involved in a head-on collision with a sport utility vehicle.
A Honda Civic that has been involved in a head-on collision with a Fiat Panda

Head-on collisions are an often fatal type of road traffic collision. The NHTSA defines a head-on collision thusly:

Refers To A Collision Where The Front End Of One Vehicle Collides With The Front End Of Another Vehicle While The Two Vehicles Are Traveling In Opposite Directions.[5]

In Canada, in 2017, 6,293 vehicles and 8,891 persons were involved in head-on collision, injuring 5,222 persons and killing 377 other.[6]

U.S. statistics show that in 2005, head-on crashes were only 2.0% of all crashes, yet accounted for 10.1% of U.S. fatal crashes. A common misconception is that this over-representation is because the relative velocity of vehicles travelling in opposite directions is high. While it is true (via Galilean relativity) that a head-on crash between two vehicles traveling at 50 mph is equivalent to a moving vehicle running into a stationary one at 100 mph, it is clear from basic Newtonian Physics that if the stationary vehicle is replaced with a solid wall or other stationary near-immovable object such as a bridge abutment, then the equivalent collision is one in which the moving vehicle is only traveling at 50 mph.,[7] except for the case of a lighter car colliding with a heavier one. The television show MythBusters performed a demonstration of this effect in a 2010 show.[8]

In France, in the years 2017 and 2018, 2563 and 2556 head-on collisions (collision frontales) outside built-up area outside motorways killed 536 and 545 people respectively.[9] They represent about 16% of all the fatalities including the ones on motorways and within built-up area.

In Quebéc, head-on collisions are involved in 8% of work-related issues, but this figure rises to 23% when the vehicles involved are in a rural zone where the maximum speed is greater than 70 km/h (43 mph).[10]

2+1 road with cable barrier, on the European route E20 near Skara, Sweden. The first median barrier installed in 1998 on a 2+1 road helped to avoid many head-on collisions[11]

Head-on collisions, sideswipes, and run-off-road crashes all belong to a category of crashes called lane-departure or road-departure crashes. This is because they have similar causes, if different consequences. The driver of a vehicle fails to stay centered in their lane, and either leaves the roadway, or crosses the centerline, possibly resulting in a head-on or sideswipe collision, or, if the vehicle avoids oncoming traffic, a run-off-road crash on the far side of the road.

Preventive measures include traffic signs and road surface markings to help guide drivers through curves, as well as separating opposing lanes of traffic with wide central reservation (or median) and median barriers to prevent crossover incidents. Median barriers are physical barriers between the lanes of traffic, such as concrete barriers or cable barriers. These are actually roadside hazards in their own right, but on high speed roads, the severity of a collision with a median barrier is usually lower than the severity of a head-on crash.

The European Road Assessment Programme's Road Protection Score (RPS[permanent dead link]) is based on a schedule of detailed road design elements that correspond to each of the four main crash types, including head-on collisions. The Head-on Crash element of the RPS measures how well traffic lanes are separated. Motorways generally have crash protection features in harmony with the high speeds allowed. The Star Rating results show that motorways generally score well with a typical 4-star rating even though their permitted speeds are the highest on the network. But results from Star Rating research in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden have shown that there is a pressing need to find better median (central reservation), run-off and junction protection at reasonable cost on single carriageway roads.

Another form of head-on crash is the wrong-way entry crash, where a driver on a surface road turns onto an off-ramp from a motorway or freeway, instead of the on-ramp. They can also happen on divided arterials if a driver turns into the wrong side of the road. Considerable importance is placed on designing ramp terminals and intersections to prevent these incidents. This often takes to form of special signage at freeway off-ramps to discourage drivers from going the wrong way. Section 2B.41 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices describes how such signs should be placed on American highways.

Neither vehicle in a head-on collision need be a "car"; the Puisseguin road crash was between a truck and a coach.

Sideswipe collisions[edit]

Sideswipe collisions are where the sides of two vehicles travelling in the same or opposite directions touch. They differ from head-on collisions only in that one vehicle impacts the side of the other vehicle rather than the front. Severity is usually lower than a head-on collision, since it tends to be a glancing blow rather than a direct impact. However, loss of control of either vehicle can have unpredictable effects and secondary crashes can dramatically increase the expected crash severity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ California Department of Transportation (2014). California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (Section 2B.41). Sacramento: State of California. pp. 162–165. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  2. ^ Railroad Gazette April 5, 1895 p.214
  3. ^ Train wrecks; a pictorial history of accidents on the main line, by Robert C. Reed. Ch. 5 "Head-On Collisions
  4. ^ agencies, Staff and (2006-09-22). "Mag-lev crash kills 23". the Guardian. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  5. ^ "FARS Encyclopedia: Help - Terms".
  6. ^ "National Collisions Database Online, Error - National Collision Database Online 1.0 - Transport Canada". 11 August 2021.
  7. ^ "PhysicsLab: Head-on Collisions 2". Retrieved 9 May 2012.
  8. ^ "MythBusters: Mythssion Control – Head-on Collision Experiment". Archived from the original on 2010-05-04. Retrieved 6 May 2010.
  9. ^ ONISR source
  10. ^ https://medias.irsst.qc.ca/videos/1403_ps_cr_HD_0099-4460_fr_pdf.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-06-04. Retrieved 2019-12-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)