A good car to have a crash in…? Part 3 – READER DISCRETION ADVISED

17 Feb

While researching this article, I have had to make some difficult editorial decisions. I refer you, dear reader, back to that very first Roadwax post which sets out my broad views about censorship.

Regrettably, I cannot tell you what I believe you should know without including some facts that may distress some readers. I do not wish to make this article appear as a ‘wise owl’ plod through statistics, farmed from reports and topped with a few vague suggestions. This is not a cut-and-paste job for a Sunday magazine. It is a genuine attempt by me to help keep my readers alive by having them empowered through their understanding of a serious issue.

Although I believe that children who are old enough to read should be old enough to also learn how to keep themselves safe, this post is not suitable for kids.

I am also stating here and now that you can skip this article and read the forthcoming “Part 4” and still benefit from a greater  understanding of how to choose a safe car. If you continue beyond this paragraph, please understand that some factual data below is distressing to read. I do not wish to sensationalize, I wish to put clarity in your mind.

On average five people get killed on British roads each day and almost sixty get “KSI” – killed or seriously injured. Deaths and injuries are declining but only by fractions of a percent and there are many complicating factors involved in dissecting even the simplest statistics on the Department for Transport website.

Other countries across the world have their own figure but one point is common to all countries: the KSI figure is unacceptably high and needs to be seen as a tragic and traumatic reminder of the human cost of mechanizing one’s population.

At this point, let us put aside how and why we crash. Being drunk, on drugs, distracted or losing control of your car or your judgement are examples that explain ‘how’ and ‘why’. Being caught in the path of somebody else who ticks any of those boxes may also make you an innocent victim.

Let us instead look at what happens in a crash.

We are all familiar with the Crash Test Dummy. These are replicas of humans, adjustable and modifiable to imitate how a human’s  body will most likely behave in a collision. Early ‘dummies’ were recently deceased corpses and even living volunteers but now these sophisticated replicas do the work.

We can watch hundreds of hours of YouTube film that shows us cars colliding with scientifically measured objects and we see what happens to the dummies. Other uploaded films show real-life collisions captured on camera and the effects on real humans. We must now make sense of what we see because there is almost no explanation attached to the footage we watch and this is itself unhelpful.

Each “crash” involves three “collisions”. The first is the car hitting an object and slowing sharply. The second collision is the passenger being hit by the g-force of slowing down, hitting the restraint systems or interior of the car. The third collision is the internal organs of the human passenger colliding with the retaining skin, skull and rib-cage of their body.

Now, we can see the limitations of the Crash Test Dummy. Researchers have to pre-load mathematical values into the crash data of a dummy because a dummy does not have a living brain or living organs.

Collision data gathered from real life crashes is far more valuable than might be expected.

A co-worker of mine called Dave once lost control of his Mercedes van and monumentally stuffed it into a wall, backwards. He was treated at the scene for shock, cuts and bruises by paramedics and again later on at hospital. He was released from hospital but collapsed within hours. Nobody had noticed a tiny, bloodless hole among his bruises. The ball point pen which he had left on the ledge below the speedometer had been launched backwards towards him during the crash. As his body twisted sideways the pen entered below his armpit, between the ribs, punctured his lung and then exited as his arm swung back and removed it. The pen was later found down by the pedals, thinly coated with the fluids from inside his body.

He recovered and returned to work. The rest of us spent our time debating furiously and fruitlessly over the safest place for a pen to be placed in our van’s cab. We eventually gave up and put them back…on the ledge…below the speedometer. Put it in the glove box? The glove box lid from Dave’s Mercedes was never found so we crossed that idea off the list early on in the debate.

This startling randomeness of real-life crash data evokes a behavioral response among emergency personnel involved in routinely attending serious collisions. It becomes necessary to cope with the unimaginable, the tragic and the completely insane world they encounter. Working with an established vehicle recovery operator, my own life changed forever. My daily contact with grieving and traumatized relatives and witnesses, handling body parts of the recently deceased, helping the Police and agencies reconstruct the last moments and cause of death of a stranger all taught me so much.

Two lessons that we discovered were deeply uncomfortable but also most enlightening.

Regardless of the car that the person drives, be it safe or unsafe, the advances in medical paramedic skills have significantly increased collision victims’ survival rates. More people’s lives are saved by prompt paramedic skill on the scene than ever before and this improves the survival statistics. One extreme example is the simplest way of linking this first fact to the next one. I have removed ‘identifiers’ from this following true story. It will make you think.

A woman was driving her medium sized car to work at 30mph on a wet road. Coming towards her round the bend was a 3 ton van, driving at 50mph. The male driver slid wide on the bend and the two vehicles met, directly and symmetrically head-on. The impact pushed the car 60 feet backwards down the road.

Paramedics and Police were on the scene almost immediately. The driver of the van was under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis. He had bruising and minor cuts. The female driver of the car was alive and sober. As the collision became inevitable, she had pushed both feet hard to the brake and clutch pedals. As the collision impact compressed the cabin in front of her, her hip bones had dislocated and her legs had traveled upwards, outside her rib cage but beneath her skin.

Paramedics were able to sustain her but she died later in hospital. Her survival that far illustrates the astonishing support for life that can now be deployed.

This account illustrates the second fact. Given the extreme but short-lived forces involved in many collisions, occupants of a car often reduce injury to themselves if their bodies are relaxed at the time of impact. If their body muscles are relaxed, they often escape greater injury when excessive force is applied to limbs and torso. Obviously, the unique and complex events of each collision involve many factors. However, it was apparent from our own empirical data as a business that drunk and therefore relaxed drivers were “walking away” from their heavily crushed vehicles more often than drivers who were sober and tense as they crashed in similar circumstances.

If, as either a car passenger or a driver, you realise that you are about to collide unavoidably with an object, you may decide to serve your body well by relaxing and making like a Crash Test Dummy.

© 2012 Loop Withers Roadwax.com

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2 Responses to “A good car to have a crash in…? Part 3 – READER DISCRETION ADVISED”

  1. Juliet February 18, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    A gold nugget. Thank you!

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