This is the first segment of a five-part series titled Anatomy of a Car Crash. The series will expand on several key topics that were recently addressed in our white paper Common Auto Accident Injuries in Colorado, which we invite you to read at this link. In this initial part, we discuss the three types of impact that occurs in a single crash. Impact is defined as an instance when something is struck with force. 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.
Why is This Data Critical?
Across the country, we continue to experience problems associated with vehicle accidents, including injuries, fatalities, and property damage. Data from the National Safety Council indicates that in 2017 there were 40,100 such fatalities, representing a 6% increase since 2015. There were also an estimated 4.5 million severe injuries incurred, and the total economic loss to society exceeded $400 billion. Here in Colorado in 2017, there were 615 roadway fatalities, exceeding 608 from the year prior.
#1: Vehicle Impact
The initial strike involves the exterior of the vehicle crashing into something, such as another vehicle. Factors to consider here are the weight of the vehicles or objects, the speed of travel, and how fast the vehicle stopped. These factors all dictate the force exerted, with speed being the one that has the largest potential impact. The weight of a vehicle proportionally heightens the amount of force; however, speed does so exponentially, thus it greatly affects the potential severity. Older vehicles were traditionally designed to be resistant to forces in a collision, but in recent years the vehicles are instead manufactured to better absorb the force and keep the passenger area better protected.
#2: Body Impact
The second impact is the result of the occupant's body striking something inside of the vehicle. The body will typically be thrust toward the point of exterior impact and either be restrained by a seat belt or stopped by striking an inside object—both of which are dangerous. It is also critical to remember that any unsecured objects within the vehicle may also become potentially damaging projectiles. Examples of such objects may include a glass beverage container, a briefcase, or a tool box.
#3: Organ Impact
The third impact relates to the damage occurring inside of the body, such as to the internal organs. A common example occurs when your brain abruptly strikes the skull that surrounds it. Organs that are solidly composed like the spleen or liver may be fractured and suffer harmful bleeding. Key vessels like the aorta could be damaged, which is largely responsible for blood flow, creating a potentially deadly situation.
Limiting Accident Potential
Ongoing research to reduce accident occurrence are reported by organizations such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the Community Preventative Services Task Force. Some of the most effective measures that can be taken in order to prevent accidents include the following.
- Implementation of graduated driver's license systems for newer, less-experienced drivers. These programs gradually allow drivers to develop their operating skills, initially under conditions that are lower risk. Drivers ultimately achieve an “unrestricted” license after reaching 18-years-of age.
- Comprehensive enforcement of impaired driving laws. This includes better enforcement of underage drinking, operations such as roadside sobriety checkpoints, educational awareness, and strong penalties.
- Requiring those found to be operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol to install ignition interlock devices.
- Implementation of strong penalties for those texting or otherwise using handheld mobile devices while driving.
- Analyzing and improving intersections where accidents often occur with better markings, signage, signals and crosswalks.
Limiting Accident Severity
- A combination of measures intended to increase the wearing of seat belts.
- Efforts to be sure that parents are properly using child car seats and booster seats.
- Measures to reduce the speed of travel including enforcement of limits and potentially reducing limits in higher accident areas.
- Heightening awareness about how items left unrestrained in a vehicle can become dangerous projectiles amid accident impact.
- Encouraging both motorcyclists and bicyclists to wear proper clothing and helmets when on the roads.