According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 2.74 million people were injured in vehicle crashes in 2019. Injuries resulting from traffic accidents are as varied as the individual circumstances of each collision, but some types of injuries are more common than others.
Minor car accident injuries often resolve within a matter of days without medical treatment. More serious injuries might result in some level of permanent physical disability.
The severity of injuries suffered by drivers and passengers depends on multiple factors, including:
Most injuries caused by car accidents fall into two broad categories: (1) impact injuries, and (2) penetrating injuries. Impact injuries are typically caused when a person's body hits some part of the interior of the car. For example, a knee hitting a dashboard or a head hitting the seat rest or the side window. Penetrating injuries are typically cuts and scrapes caused by shattering glass or loose objects flying inside the car.
A soft tissue injury is damage to the body's connective tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons). This is the most common type of injury resulting from a car accident. Soft tissue injuries can take many forms.
A "whiplash" type injury to the neck and upper back is a form of soft tissue injury. A whiplash injury occurs when muscles and ligaments are stretched due to sudden movements of the head and neck during a collision. The same forces can cause soft tissue injuries in other areas of the body such as the back. Car accidents often cause mid-back and low-back muscle sprains, and sometimes more serious back injuries because of the impact force against the spine.
In a car accident, any loose objects inside the car immediately become projectiles thrown about the car's interior. This includes things like cell phones, coffee mugs, eyeglasses, purses, books, and dash-mounted GPS systems. If any of these items hit your body, they can easily cut your skin or cause other injuries.
Most scrapes and cuts are relatively minor and require no medical treatment. More serious injuries might require stitches.
Airbags can also cause cuts and scrapes when they deploy in a collision.
Head injuries can take a range of forms from relatively minor to quite severe. A car's unexpected stop or change in direction can cause the heads of drivers and passengers to move in sudden and unnatural ways. These movements can result in muscle strains and sprains in the neck and back (as discussed above). But the head itself can also be injured. A person's head can be cut or bruised when it hits a side window or the steering wheel. A severe head collision can cause a closed head injury that results in bruising and tearing of the brain tissue and blood vessels. Most closed head injuries result in concussions, but more severe impacts can cause lasting brain damage.
Chest injuries are also common after car accidents. Chest injuries range from painful bruises to broken ribs and internal injuries. Drivers often experience chest injuries when they collide with the steering wheel. Seatbelts and dashboards can also cause chest injuries.
The same forces that unexpectedly move a person's head in car collisions act similarly on arms and legs. If your car suffers a side impact, your arms and legs might be thrown against the door. Car accidents often cause passengers' knees to hit the dashboard or the seats in front of them. Depending on the nature of the collision, your arms and legs might be bruised, scraped, sprained, or even broken in a car accident.
Keep in mind that some injuries might not show up right after a car accident. Depending on the nature of the injury, it might take days, weeks, or even months for symptoms to appear. So if you're in a car accident, it is best to seek medical treatment right away if you feel any level of pain or discomfort.