Think of it like a slab of butter—a seatbelt is going to just drag through it.

First things first, let’s talk about why you should care. Did you know that According to a dateline television program, it’s estimated that car accidents occur every two seconds in the US? So, if you haven’t been in a car accident it’s likely that you will be in one in your lifetime. Our job is not only to decrease your chances of severe injury, but help you understand what can happen during an accident along with the long-term effects that can happen long after. Redundant I know, but we can’t stress “long term” enough.

Our bodies are perfectly structured and designed however the amount of force or impact we can take vs a metal car is far less. Many people don’t know or understand the amount of stress our body undergoes during an accident. During those 200 milliseconds a wide range of things can occur, depending on how fast, and where the impact is made during a collision.  In a minimal fender bender, you can expect neck injuries, whiplash, and various back injuries. As speed increases so does the chances of your injuries being more severe.

Dr. David Logan, Senior Research Fellow from Melbourne’s Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC), tells us about the effect’s seat belts can have if not worn properly. For example, if a person is too short, like a child for example (without a car seat). Where the seatbelt that usually would lay over a person’s hip, on a child it would lay over his or her stomach.

Dr. David Logan state’s “There’s a lot of organs in there that, if you rupture them, you can get stomach acid sloshing around the rest of your body. If the bowel gets ruptured, which sometimes happens, you’ve got waste products sloshing around the inside of the body where they’re not meant to be, and the outcome is much worse.”

“Think of it like a slab of butter—a seatbelt is going to just drag through it.” He says, This example might be crass especially when we are thinking about our children but it’s impactful enough to get the message across.

It’s important to note the importance of car seats. Once you have a fully formed adult skeleton (that doesn’t require car seats) it’s important to have your seat, and seatbelt properly adjusted. The bottom part of your seat belt should go across your hips, and the strap that goes across should go up and across your chest to the left side of your collar bone if you’re the driver. If You’re a passenger then the strap should go up and across, to the right side up to your collarbone. This can be uncomfortable for short adults but none the less is required for safety.

So why are seatbelts important exactly?

Seat Belts help you slow down at the same speed as the car slows. When you’re in an accident, your body moves at the same speed per hour as your car. When a passenger isn’t wearing a seatbelt instead of the kinetic energy being stopped, at the same speed as the car, the body propels forward. As the body propels forward at speeds per say of 60 miles per hour your chest hits the steering wheel at that speed. Along with your head hitting your windshield at 60 miles per hour. You can imagine that most people would not be able to survive that kind of impact, so when people say seat belts can save lives, it’s not some corny slogan.

X-ray photo

X-ray photo of a patient with a right collar bone fracture

Usually after a car accident you can expect a broken collar bone, usually caused by seat belts. If you get out of a car accident with nothing but a broken collarbone you should count yourself lucky. Not that we’ve talked about seat belts let’s get into airbags, because there are many more ways you can get hit where seatbelts alone won’t cut it.  

 

What happens if you get side-swiped?

 Dr. Logan says “In a frontal-crash, you have the benefit of the whole front of the car to absorb the energy. Noting that the front is built to “deform in a controlled manner”.

“In a side-impact crash, all you’ve got protecting you is the door, which is maybe 10cm or 15cm thick,” he said.

“Your body’s just being crushed from the side. With a side-impact we see much more severe injuries to the thorax and upper-body; you get a lot more rib fractures; a lot more damage to the lungs and internal organs because of the side-impact. You also get pelvic fractures as well, because it’s the height of the bumper bar of the car that hits you.”

Side swipes are a major reason as to why airbags, and airbags that go all along the top of your car, were invented. These airbags though may still cause bruised or broken ribs will usually protect your soft tissues and your lungs from being punctured. Not to mention the top air bags will protect our most valuable organ, our brain.

However, the broken bones, bruises, and ruptures of soft tissue aren’t the only things that occur during an accident. There are other injuries that can take much longer to heal and may be harder to spot till long after the occurrence of the accident. These injuries aren’t as obvious and may be overlooked by a physician that isn’t familiar with accident injuries. These soft tissue injuries can cause long term effects, that decrease your quality of life, and make everyday tasks painful. For example, herniated, or bulging disk, mild to severe concussions, pulled or sprained ligaments, muscle tares, and psychological injuries. Because accidents doctors specialize in treating accident injuries it’s important to get all your documentation/test done that you need when dealing with accident litigation. On more information on these kinds of injuries read our blog on “Spot your Symptoms” to help you know what to look for, and what to ask our doctors.