Over the years, we’ve covered a number of tragic, local accidents in the greater Chicagoland area. We try to figure out what went wrong, and what our communities can do to prevent similar accidents in the future. But the horrific news coming out of Hampshire on Sunday is beyond tragic.
Per ABC 7, A woman was driving the wrong way on I-90 when she hit a van head-on. Both vehicles erupted in flames. The wrong-way driver died, as did a 31-year-old woman and five children traveling in the van. The driver of the van is hospitalized at Loyola University Medical Center. He is the only survivor of this initial crash.
We say “initial” because another accident occurred at the same spot. ABC reports that two semi-trucks collided after the first semi stopped to let a medical helicopter land, but the second truck didn’t stop in time. The crash led to some debris spill, and one person suffered minor injuries, but no one perished in the truck accident.
Everything about these incidents is terrible on its own. Take together, you have a truly worst-case scenario. Our hearts break for the families, but most especially for the driver who survived the head-on collision. As one neighbor said to ABC News, "Losing your family in a split-second like that is not going to be easy for anybody."
Car fires, wrong-way crashes, and head-on collisions: rare, but dangeorus
Car fires – despite what you may have read in the New York Times this year – don’t appear to be common. Car and Driver reports:
At this point you may be asking whether your car is going to catch fire or what, so here's what we found. According to the National Fire Protection Association, which gets its info from the NFIRS, passenger cars averaged 117,400 fires annually between 2013 and 2017. And the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that there were 261,037,752 registered vehicles in the US in 2018 (excluding semi-trucks, motorcycles, and buses). So, do a little division, carry the one . . . and that equals .04 percent of vehicles catching fire in a given year.
Here's the rub, though: there’s no set plan for collecting car fire statistics. Per Car and Driver, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn’t keep track of highway fires, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) doesn’t appear to have a database of car fires, either. A little digging, though, did find this data from the NHTSA in 2019: “Fires occurred in 0.1 percent of the vehicles involved in all traffic crashes in 2019. For fatal crashes, however, fires occurred in 3.3 percent of the vehicles involved.” Overall, there were 13,000 incidents involving “fire occurrence” in 2019, leading to just under 1,700 fatalities.
That same data set found that driving the wrong way accounted for 2.4 percent of all fatal accidents that year. The problem, however, is that the number of wrong-way crashes has been increasing. A recent statement issued by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found “there were 2,008 deaths from such crashes on divided highways between 2015 and 2018, or about 500 deaths a year. AAA says that is an increase of 34 percent from the 375 deaths that were reported annually between 2010 to 2014,” CBS 19 News reports.
If you’re thinking, But 500 a year is still less than 1700 a year, you’re not wrong: it certainly is. But note what AAA looked at: fatal wrong-way crashes on divided highways only. That’s a really specific set of parameters, and we’re willing to bet that the overall numbers of wrong-way collisions (fatal or not) across the country, when looking at all types of traffic, are significantly higher.
Why? Because in 2019, there were 537 accidents involving someone driving on the wrong side, or the wrong way, in Chicago alone, accounting for 153 injuries. (Silver lining? No fatalities from wrong-way crashes that year.)
Head-on collisions, however, are a different matter. In 2019, there were 839 head-on collisions in the greater Chicago area: 267 involved at least one person being injured, and four were fatal.
So, where does that leave us? Wrong-way collisions, head-on crashes, and car fires are all rare compared to, say, intersection accidents or hit-and-runs. But as rare as they are, all of them can lead to devastating injuries or deaths. Sunday’s accident was a trifecta of three rare occurrences all culminating in one of the most deadly collisions we’ve seen in a long time.
We don’t know how anyone could have prepared for this type of scenario, let alone avoided the dangerous driver who caused it. We do know that if you are injured because of another driver’s negligence or recklessness, you have legal options.
Neal S. Gainsberg has spent the last 20 years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. From consumer rights and bankruptcy to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, Mr. Gainsberg stands up to large corporations, insurance companies, creditors and hospital administrators to ensure that his clients’ futures are safe and secure. Learn More