Why Truck Accidents Cause Such Catastrophic Injuries

When big trucks and small cars meet, the results are never good. For the sake of perspective, the difference in mass between big rigs and passenger vehicles is about the same difference between an average adult male and a newborn infant. More specifically, if a fully loaded big rig were scaled down to around 200lbs, a passenger vehicle would weigh only about 7.5lbs. These numbers speak for themselves, as do the crash statistics published every year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Truck Accident Injury

The NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Facts (TSF) is an annual report that provides statistical breakdowns of traffic data. The reports are notable for the sheer volume of information they contain. For example, Table 46 of the TSF provides a breakdown of crashes between big trucks and motor vehicles by Initial Point of Impact (front, left side, rear) and further publishes the number of deaths and injuries associated with those collisions. The most recent year for which the report is available (2019) lists a staggering 417,000 reported collisions between large trucks and cars.

What’s interesting to note is that there is no apparent correlation between the type of accident and any type of injury in particular. Instead, the severity of injuries sustained (and, by extension, the risk of death) correlate more closely with the force of the collision than the method by which it occurred. Almost all injuries and deaths resulting from crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles are related to a single cause: blunt force trauma.

What is blunt force trauma?

Blunt force injuries are produced by objects that have wide, dull surfaces, and can also be referred to as non-penetrative trauma. By contrast, penetrative trauma involves piercing of the skin and often results in open wounds. Blunt trauma can be the result of one or more forces acting together, and is often caused by factors common to big truck and motor vehicle crashes, including the following mechanisms described by Pathology Outlines:

  • Moving blunt object impacting against a resting body
  • Moving body impacting against a resting blunt object
  • Moving body and a moving blunt object collide
  • Body is trapped between 2 surfaces

The outlook for victims of blunt force trauma is grim at best. An article published in January in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Continuing Education Activities Library relates that:

Trauma is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in patients under 35-years of age and the sixth leading cause of death worldwide. The majority of serious traumatic injuries are due to blunt trauma from motor vehicle crashes and pedestrian injuries…

The outcomes of these patients depend on their age, type of injury, other comorbidities, time to treatment and number of organs involved. While mortality rates have dropped over the past 3 decades, a significant number of trauma patients still die either at the scene or upon arrival to the trauma center.

To summarize: if victims of blunt force trauma are lucky enough to survive the initial impact and be transported to a qualified facility and treated by an expert team, a significant number of trauma patients still die upon arrival. To better understand why blunt force trauma is so deadly, we turn to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

The Highway Loss Data Institute

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries from all types of motor vehicle crashes. The HLDI conducts scientific research that focuses on how injuries occur in real world crashes to understand, reduce, and ultimately prevent injuries that affect crash victims. Most of this research takes place at the IIHS/HLDI Vehicle Research Center, where crash test dummies live out their days advancing the knowledge of humankind.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Vehicle Research Center has two award-winning videos (among many other excellent resources) that explain the science behind car crashes along with demonstrations and expert commentary. In their video Understanding Car Crashes: When Physics Meets Biology, Professor Griff Jones guides viewers through the effects of all kinds of crashes and explains just what happens to crash victims during and after a collision.

How do car crashes work?

Just like everything else, crashes are governed by the laws of physics. The interplay of forces can get pretty complicated, but Newton’s three laws (the most well-known in physics) are the ones we care about. Briefly, collisions involve at least two objects. At a minimum, one of those objects is in motion. When two objects with different velocities interact, force is transferred. What makes car crashes so dangerous is the trauma that results from the blunt force exchange.

Dr. Jones of the Vehicle Research Center explains:

The impact produces a shock wave that moves through the body… these waves change speed and/or direction as they move through tissues of differing densities. Bigger and more complicated impact forces produce bigger and potentially more damaging shockwaves. As shockwaves move through tissue, they disrupt function at the cellular level.

The phrase “disrupt function” doesn’t really get across just how severe the consequences of a forceful impact can be. Dr. Stephen Olvey, associate professor of clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine explains that, “You actually get injury to the cells themselves and they begin to malfunction. In a brain injury, the shift of ions within the brain causes the release of chemicals that can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate its own blood flow.”

Collisions between big trucks and small cars have major consequences. If you or your loved one sustained an injury in a big-rig collision, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills and other damages. When your life is turned upside down by a sudden accident, Rocky McElhaney Law Firm is here to protect you and your family and help get you the compensation you need. To schedule a free initial consultation at one of our offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, or Clarksville, please call 615-425-2500 or fill out our contact form.