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Injuries Happen at Low Speeds Too

Have you ever watched a NASCAR wreck? There are spectacular flips and turns and twists at 180mph, and the car comes completely undone, and the driver just walks away? Auto accidents come in all different shapes and sizes, and the injuries, or lack of injuries, that result from those accidents are not always what you would expect.

If you’ve never thought about these factors, your involvement in a car accident will make them important in a hurry. Or at least an insurance adjuster will give you their unsolicited opinion on the matter. Insurance companies routinely undervalue low speed accidents with little to no property(automobile) damage arguing that there is no way someone could have been hurt. They do this despite medical records to the contrary. They will argue this point when valuing your claim, and their lawyers will argue it to a jury in court. However, they are simply playing to your and your peers’ common sensibilities because the science is decidedly not on their side. Without going too far into the physics of a rear ender automobile accident, the premise is fairly simple: injuries to the body are the primary result of the acceleration of your body, not the speed of the car colliding with yours or the ultimate structural damage to the vehicle. Additionally and most importantly, that acceleration of the body is time dependent.

Consider the following: you are traveling 100 mph and hit a concrete wall. The time duration of the crash is incredibly brief, therefore the acceleration is tremendous. Even taking the factor of the crushing vehicle out of the equation, the acceleration would be so severe it would cause fatal injuries alone. Now consider the same crash but you collide with very soft foam 200 ft long, 100 ft wide and 30ft tall. What is the difference between the two collisions? The duration. In the first scenario the duration of the impact is a split second causing extreme acceleration. In the second, it occurs over the course of three to four seconds dramatically slowing the acceleration.

For a real life example, watch on YouTube the collision that killed legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Sr. It doesn’t look bad at all compared to maybe a highlight real of “Worst NASCAR Crashes,”and certainly resulted in much less damage to the car itself. However, the acceleration was at fatal levels due to the very brief duration of the collision. The long and short of the matter is that insurance companies heavily base the value of your claim on the damage to your vehicle, but damage to your vehicle, especially with modern, more rigid vehicles, is not the determining factor in whether or not you suffered injuries.

The New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) is a non-mandatory test initiated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in an attempt to raise the crashworthiness of cars. Rather than the usual 30 mph tests mandated by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), the NCAP specifies 35 mph crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also conducts similar tests at higher speeds than mandated, and adds an offset deformable barrier component. NCAP results are given in a star rating and IIHS also rates their results and posts them for public consumption. The effect has been quite positive in that manufacturers are quick to remedy the problems identified by these tests and there has been a general improvement in higher speed crashworthiness of automobiles.

Now, the difference between 30 and 35 mph may not seem like a lot, but it is a 40% increase in kinetic energy that the manufacturers have to make a car handle. In short, car manufacturers, by and large, have made their cars stiffer and more rigid, and when they make the car stiffer to protect you in the high speed crashes, they consequently make it stiffer for the low speed crashes as well resulting in more acceleration. Also, there is a relatively new requirement for seat back stiffness so that those don’t fail in a rear end crash also increasing the risk of whiplash injury. In short, Stiffer cars = less car damage = more acceleration of the body at low speed = more bodily injury at low speed.

Researchers have compared crash damage to injury risk. Walz and Muser in their Biomechanical aspects of cervical spine injuries, (17) 1995 found that, "The greater the vehicular damage, the less the biomechanical loading (and the inverse)."

Also see, Chapline et al. Neck pain and head restraint position relative to the driver's head in
rear-end collisions (23) 2000:

– Rear impact study of New York crashes
– 45% risk for neck injury in females; 28% for males
– 49% females and 33% males had pain in other parts of body (e.g., low back)
– The largest category of injury crashes were graded as having no damage
– In these, 38% of females and 19% of males had symptoms
– When damage was rated as minor, these proportions rose to 54% and 34%


Simply, insurance companies remain dogmatic in their belief that there is a direct correlation between automobile damage and damage to your body in a collision. The relevant evidence states there is no correlation, and, in fact, the way automobiles are made today, low impact crashes present an ever-increasing risk of injury due to greater levels of acceleration at impact. When injured in an accident you will suffer. Pain, lack of sleep, lost work, painful work, rehabilitation, etc., are damages for which you deserve compensation. When confronting these issues with an insurance company, be sure to utilize a skilled Wisconsin or Tennessee personal injury attorney like those at Horlacher Necci, where we treat you like family. We’d love to help you get the compensation you deserve.

-Attorney Dan Necci-