Head injuries are a common cause of death in motor vehicle accidents. They often result from unbelted drivers or passengers who are ejected from the vehicle. These head injuries also occur to seat-belted passengers or even the driver when stuck directly, usually with a bigger vehicle such as an SUV or truck. Pedestrians can be struck by a motor vehicle and this can also lead to a head injury.
In the US, someone sustains a traumatic brain injury every 23 seconds. This is about 2 million people per year. Three hundred thousand people will need to be hospitalized because of head injuries and 99,000 will have a long lasting disability. A total of 56,000 people will die in the US per year. About 34 percent of all injuries resulting in death are due to a head injury.
Males are twice as likely to suffer from a traumatic brain injury as women. Males also had a higher mortality rate than women. Those with the highest risks of getting a traumatic brain injury are those aged 15-24 and those over 60.
Motor vehicle collisions account for about 28 percent of traumatic brain injuries. Other causes are falls, sports injuries and assaults. Accidents are the principal reason why those who have sustained head injuries are hospitalized. Alcohol is involved in fatal crashes about 41 percent of the time. There are approximately 321,000 people involved in alcohol-related crashes each year.
Severe and fatal head injuries related to a motor vehicle accident are tracked by the US Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network database between 1997 and 2006. This is an organization that monitors accidents and looks for specific design flaws with the goal of correcting those flaws. They look at medical evaluations, including details of the injuries and photographs of the injury, and records from the emergency room, intensive care unit and trauma bay. Even the rehabilitation records are looked at.
The data was synthesized case-by-case with x-rays, CT scans and MRI scans closely examined. Evaluations of circumstances found at the scene were looked at as well as photos and scans of the brain injury itself and the Glasgow coma scale was analyzed for loss of consciousness. In addition to the severe to fatal injury analysis, the presence of facial and scalp traumas was also analyzed. Spinal injuries were also factored in. The numbers of fatalities and survivors were analyzed and compared.
Out of a total of 3,178 cases reviewed, 169 sustained some kind of head injury. From this pool, 132 of the patients were involved in frontal (54 patients), side (75 cases) and rear (3) collisions. Most patients had mid-sized normal body mass indices. Some of the differences in the collisions and the patients were most noted with changes in velocity and the presence of side impact bags. Physical contact locations were the front of the head and the side of the head. Frontal locations were associated with frontal collisions, which also often resulted in facial injuries. Damage to the parietal and temporal lobes was most associated with side impact injuries.
The research showed that more studies are needed with dummies to direct the course of preventative measures. Some preventative measures include airbags, both on the side and on the front of the passenger and drivers’ seats. The study theorized that for side impact collisions, some improvements could be to reinforce the side of the vehicle with steel that would prevent the side of vehicles from buckling.