This is the third of our five-part series called Anatomy of a Car Crash. We will more thoroughly discuss a topic from our recently posted white paper titled Common Auto Accident Injuries in Colorado. Side-impact accidents are those where the front of a vehicle collides into the side of another. Other common terms used to describe this type of accident include angle or lateral impact, a T-bone, or broadside collision. These kinds of collisions are often likely to result in catastrophic injuries or death. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says approximately 25% of fatalities are the result of side impact collisions. They commonly happen at intersections, when motorists are encountering traffic signals and stop or yield signs.
The types of injuries that commonly occur in lateral impact collisions include the following.
- Injuries to the head or brain.
- Cervical or spinal injuries.
- Injuries to the abdominal or chest area.
- Injuries to the upper arms or shoulders.
- Injuries to hip, femur, and pelvis.
Why Are Angle Impact Collisions so Dangerous?
The side sections of a vehicle simply have less mass to protect those inside compared to the front or rear sections of the vehicle. There is considerably less material to absorb impact and significantly less space at the point of impact for occupants on the side where the crash originates. Advancements have been made to increase usage of material capable of absorbing force applied to the door panels, roof pillars, and rails of the sub-frame. The addition of side impact airbags has been a good safety feature also. Manufacturers are challenged to meet fuel efficiency requirements while increasing side-impact collision safety. Fuel efficiency increases when you minimize vehicle weight. If they add heavy material such as steel to the sides for better safety, they are compromising those goals.
Obviously, the speed of travel at the time of the collision and the size of the vehicle largely correlate to accident severity. Automakers are working to advance their side-impact safety standards. Some new materials are able to be used that better absorb energy. The doors and beams have better reinforced hinges and latches that are now being used. To protect the occupants inside, better reinforced beams have been added and even the seats and backrests have been upgraded to lessen accident severity.
Front airbags have been standardized in vehicles produced since 1999. Although not mandatory equipment, side airbags have also been added. These bags inflate with air upon impact to protect the head and shoulder regions of the occupant, and some stay inflated for protection in the event of a subsequent roll-over event. Side airbags have been applauded by the IIHS, as they found them to be reducing the fatality rate by a minimum of 37% for most vehicles, thus already having saved many thousands of lives and preventing many severe injuries.
Types of Side Airbags
There are two common airbags used for side-impact protection. The first are called torso airbags, typically located in the side of the seats. Torso bags are usually limited to the front passenger seats, yet some newer vehicles have these devices in the back seats as well. The other type is the curtain airbag that is housed near the interior ceiling of the vehicle. These curtain bags are designed to protect the head of the occupants. Many vehicles that have third-row seating are increasingly made with bags placed in position to also protect these occupants. Testing is also underway for a front-center airbag that is used to protect those riding in the front seats and those riding in the rear from colliding with one another after a crash.
In IIHS crash testing, they simulated a T-bone accident illustrating when a car is struck by a higher-riding pickup truck. The truck weighing 3,300 pounds struck a Honda Civic while moving at 31 miles per hour. The dummy driver's head is momentarily protected by the side airbag before then shifting to the right. The damage to the Civic was severe as the roof collapsed and both doors on the side of impact smashed inward; however, the driver incurred only mild injuries and walked away from the accident.