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The Motor Vehicle Crash, Myth vs. Fact


Myth:  My car wasn't damaged so I could not be injured.

Fact:  Realistically, a person stands about a 50:50 chance of being injured in a low speed, rear impact crash (LOSRIC) of 5 mph.  Research has shown that bumper protectors, which are fluid and gas filled shock absorbers designed to prevent vehicle damage, have a threshold for visible damage of over 12 mph in modern cars.  So, if you can be hurt at, or below, 5 mph and modern bumpers protect the car from damage to more than 12 mph, do you think you might get hurt while your vehicle remains undamaged?  Of course you can!

For those who are injured, there is about a 50:50 chance for complete recovery. For those who are injured and have risk factors for poor outcome (like age, gender and fitness factors), the chances of poor outcome are greater. Assessing this is the job of an experienced, informed, and intuitive clinician.

Myth: Everyone gets better after a few weeks or months, even without treatment.

Fact: This is what many insurance companies try to pass off as fact.  It lets them off the hook, after a few weeks.  Don't buy it!  It could not be further from the truth.  There is no scientifically based literature that supports this notion.  There is, in fact, a great deal of literature that supports just the opposite premise.  That is, that many people are likely to have problems which are chronic and may last for years, or even indefinitely, if they do not receive proper care.

Myth: I felt OK after the crash, so I must not have been hurt.

Fact: Delay in onset of symptoms is extremely common and is well documented in the literature. Generally speaking, the more severe lesions are symptomatic very soon after trauma. However, delays of up to several months are not uncommon for some disorders, and they may be quite disabling.

Myth: Impact at a higher velocity is worse than an impact at a lower velocity.

Fact: This intuitive statement may not be correct at all.  This is due to a concept that is known as ride down.  Ride down is provided by the give in the materials around the occupant of the vehicle.  For example, the give in the fender or hood as it crumples at impact, the elasticity of the seat belt, the padding of the dashboard, etc.  The effects of ride down are limited in low speed, rear impact crashes (LOSRIC) because there is very little vehicle crush--they are quite stiff at low speeds. One could argue that the seat back provides a degree of ride down, but only in the case that the seat back is permanently deformed or broken. If it is not, it may act as a spring and have just the opposite effect.

Injury risk rises as speed increases and seems to peak at 15-20 mph.  It is interesting that the risk begins to decrease again at 20-25 mph.  That's ride down!  There is, obviously, a limit to the benefit of ride down.  High speed motor vehicle crashes can be devastating and deadly.

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