Making Your Car Safer & Reducing Car-Accident Injury! Part I

By Dr. Scott Rosenthal

PART I

Every year three million people in the United Sates are injured in car accidents. Staying at home is not an option in our drive-to-work, school, store, friends, restaurant, the soccer field, grocery store, etc. society. Can you think of the last day that you did not ride in a car? It's a normal part of life, and it’s easy to lose sight of the dangers that ride along with you. With a little information, America’s favorite mode of travel can be made safer.

The most common accident is the rear-end collision. It often leads to an injury called whiplash. This injury results from the sudden movements of the neck relative to the body. Within one quarter of a second, the impact and resulting damage injures the spine, muscles and connective tissues. The injuries of whiplash are often severe because the speed of the incident is faster than your muscles can react and protect. The unrestrained head and neck movements are only halted by the ligaments or with bony contact.

Common symptoms of whiplash may include pain in the neck and back, headaches, shoulder pain, pins and needles or numbness in the arms and legs. Pain and other sensations may be noticed immediately or surface days later. They may be short-lived or linger for months or years. On top of that, victims can also suffer with emotional wounds because of the traumatic and frightening nature of an accident.

With the introduction of the seat belt and later the shoulder harness, injuries to the back and neck have greatly increased. Please don't let that deter you from buckling up. In light of the many fatalities caused by people being ejected from the car or from being thrust into the steering wheel, dash or windshield (having a “second collision”), buckling-up is a better alternative to death or severe disfigurement. It is the law for good reason!  While your back and neck may suffer from an injury, the National Highway Safety Administration estimates that lap and shoulder belts decrease the risk of serious injury to the head, chest, arms and legs by 50 percent to 83 percent.

Too frequently belts are worn incorrectly. Follow this list to be sure you and your passengers are safe and secure:

  • The shoulder belt should be worn closely against your body, over your shoulder and across your chest - never under your arm.
  • The shoulder strap must cross between your shoulder and your neck. This prevents the belt from further injuring the neck in the case of an accident.
  • Maintain one inch or less of slack between your shoulder belt and your body.
  • The lap belt should be firm against your body and low across your hips. Be sure it does not ride-up onto your abdomen. This would pose a risk to your intestines, liver, stomach and other organs.

“Headrest” is a nice word, but it has nothing to do with “resting” when safety is concerned! It is also known as the “head restraint.” Proper headrest design and position, if adjustable, is vital in preventing injury. If your head movement is restricted in relation to your chest, injury to the neck is limited.

To lay the head restraint issue to rest, follow the below recommendations:

  • Place the center of the head restraint at the level of your ears.
  • There should be a distance of two inches or less between the back of your head and the headrest.

Whether it’s connecting the seat to the car or the child to the seat, making sure your child is properly fastened can be confusing. If you are unsure, even just a little, please seek help! Men, it’s OK this time to read the instructions or to ask for directions. Visit the State of Delaware website for general car seat information and to find a site where your car seat can be checked: http://ohs.delaware.gov/information/cps.shtml

What do you do if you are sitting there and know you are about to be hit? Research has determined that being caught by surprise and/or if the head is turned to one side prior to the impact, the injury will be far worse. If you see it coming, do the following:

Make your muscles tense and look straight ahead.
If stopped, hold your foot firmly on the brakes to slow the acceleration of the car and your body. This could diminish the rapid positional changes of your head and neck at the time of impact.

No one plans to get in a car accident, but you will benefit from having a plan to better survive one. With proper use of safety equipment and knowing what to do if you see an accident coming, injury can be greatly lessened or avoided. Your chiropractor’s job will not only be made easier, but your recovery will be quicker.

Please copy and share this article with your friends and family. Keep a copy in the car for your future reference. Look for Part II next month for additional tips that can make all of the difference.

References:

http://www.aaos.org/about/papers/position/1121.asp

http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/seatbelt.shtml

Lord in Spine: State of the Art Reviews: Cervical Flexion-Extension /

Whiplash Injuries, Hanley & Belfus, Sept. 1993Stemper, Brian, Ph.D., Yoganandan, Narayan, Pintar, Frank, (2006).Effect of head restraint backset on head-neck kinematics in whiplash.. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 38, 317-323.

Emori, Whiplash in Low Speed Vehicle Collisions, SAE, Feb 1990

Radanov et al. Long term outcome after whiplash injury. Medicine 1995;74

Havsy. Whiplash Injuries of the Cervical Spine and their

Clinical Seaquelae. Am J of PainManagement, Jan 1994