• Defensive Driving Rule #31: Avoid Head-On Collisions

      A head-on collision is the worst crash most of us can think of. Thankfully, they are relatively rare. Still, you should be prepared for one. A young mother was on an Arizona highway, with her sister and her child. She had great visibility. In front of her was smooth, dry pavement, wide shoulders and straight road. A snake slithered out. Rather than hit the snake, she went left of center, right into the grill of a semi. All three were killed instantly in a collision that equaled running into a solid wall at over 120 miles per hour. When emergency crews arrived, the truck driver was wandering around, telling anyone who'd listen that he was so close when she swerved, he hadn't had time to turn his wheel and take his rig into the ditch to save them. He couldn't understand why she would hit a truck head on, instead of a snake.

      I can tell you why. First, she wasn't paying attention. Second, she reacted without thinking, in a fraction of a second, and she made the WRONG decision. What would you do if you were suddenly faced with a highway head-on? You've got only a few seconds to react, the closing speed is 200 feet per second and maybe more. At this speed you cover each MILE of pavement in 26 seconds. If you think about it ahead of time and often, so it becomes second-nature to you, you may make the right move if you ever face a head-on.

      Here's how to avoid head-ons. Anticipate those places and situations where a head-on collision is possible. They can happen on curvy roads, but these typically aren't the full-on, radiator to radiator crashes you normally think of when "head-on" is mentioned. There are head-ons that occur on straight stretches, because someone is asleep or distracted. Pay attention and look far down the road. If you aren't distracted, you're likely to see the vehicle coming long before he's a problem. Watch for erratic behavior. Use your headlights in daylight -- it makes the other driver THINK about you -- Why does he have his lights on? On curvy roads especially, DON'T HUG THE CENTERLINE. Drive on the right side of your lane, and you'll miss the guy that's a little bit wide coming around a blind curve at you.

      Despite your best efforts, you could someday face a head-on. First, slow down as quickly as you can without losing control; this will reduce the forces if there is an impact. If the other driver keeps coming in your lane, go off the road to the RIGHT, NOT LEFT. If he recovers at the last second, where do you think he'll go? If you hit him on his side, in the absence of witnesses who can state the truth, it's your fault (if you survive). When going off-road to the right, if you cannot avoid hitting something solid, don't hit it square, but off center, on a side if possible, with a glancing blow. You are better off having a one-car crash off the right side of the road, than you'd be in a head-on crash at highway speed. But if you drive right, off the road, you are going to do some damage. For this reason (it's a sure crash), some folks hang on, in the face of an oncoming head-on, until it is too late. Think about it NOW. Slow quickly, drive right, off the road if necessary, live to see tomorrow (and to read my next rule)!
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      Comments 2 Comments
      1. kk794d's Avatar
        kk794d -
        For me, driving is a full time task. It is your opportunity to improve driving skill every time you are behind the wheel. You always ask yourself the WHAT IF questions. The lady died because she had not thought about what if some animal suddenly in front of her car, what would she do. If she had, she would have instinctively did the correct maneuver without thinking - no time to think. How many people died because of this? After the what if question, you still have to develop the necessary skills to take care of this imaginary problem. Driving can not be taken for granted.
      1. mjohn911's Avatar
        mjohn911 -
        30 minutes ago, I just narrowly avoided a head on crash. Situation: Dark driving conditions, one lane country road, (one lane for each direction). Regular intersection with traffic signals all ways. The light was green as we approached the intersection. The car in front of me signaled for a right turn, slowed slightly, and turned right. As he turned, the light turned yellow. I proceeded through the intersection on yellow. Coming the opposite direction, a motorist had also approached the intersection when the light turned yellow, and was turning left. He waited momentarily for the motorist in front of me to turn right, and proceeded to turn left on yellow. The problem was, as he turned left, I was coming through the intersection, and the oncoming motorist didn't see me behind the car in front of me that had just turned right. As I drove through the intersection, I saw the headlights of the oncoming car turning left about 1 second before the near collision. What prevented the collision was both of us slamming on the brakes and me veering hard to the right. Consequently, we both stopped in the middle of the intersection, about 18 -24 inches from each other. Neither of us honked because it happened so fast. I drove around him and proceeded through the intersection. If I hadn't veered to the right, I would have hit him. If we both hadn't braked as hard as we did, we would have hit, both going about 20-25 mph. I'm not sure who's fault it would have been, because I went through on yellow, and he was turning left on yellow right before the signal changed. But what saved us was the hard veer to the right while he slowed and stopped. We were both able to safely exit the intersection. I pulled into the gas station at the intersection to recover, but the other motorist continued on his way.
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