When people die in a car crash what specific injuries usually kill them?

Morbid curiosity - When someone gets hit in a car crash what are the usual injuries they die of, and how specifically do these injuries kill them?

My impression, from many years of tales of various car wrecks, is that it’s usually either head injuries or chest trauma.

Found this, FWIW.


And this.

I would make a guess that ruptured spleen is one of the top reasons why people die. Especially if one’s spleen is already enlarged, the massive blood loss can kill a person quite fast.

Odd, I would say the cessation of the heart beating … and no longer breathing.

Sorry for being flippant, but my sis in law the forensics person jokes that in the end, everybody dies because they no longer have a pulse…but the stopping of the pulse is the million dollar question in some cases=)

People don’t realize sometimes how fragile the body really is - the brain sloshes around, internal organs do the g-force mamba, a tiny little tear in a blood vessel somewhere from the g-forces torsion and out go the lights…or a little clump of blood clot sneaks into the brain or heart, or lungs and its the dirt nap. Amazing that someone can fall 20 feet off a roof and practically walk away with nothing more than broken bones and you can trip on the doorstop and trigger an aneurysm.

I was in a head-on crash wherein my Tercel was totalled and the engine went under my feet. Well, it wasn’t strictly head-on… it was somewhere between head-on and driver’s side, right on the driver’s side headlight. (Other car, a pick-up, was at fault)

The next few days, I was bedridden with pain. I had no broken bones or sprains or any other specific injuries… just pain all over the body, kind of like what you get with the flu only five times worse.

The doctor said the pain was normal with the impact I took, and diagnosed it as “shock”.

I came close to biting the big one many years ago. The doctors referred my injuries as blunt force trauma, one doc said that is what kills most in auto accidents.

These are things that will kill you before help arrives.

Things that one’s body can’t tolerate

  1. Injury to the lungs or trachea, that make air exchange impossible. If the sac covering a lung is punctured (usually by a rib) air leaks in through to hole into the negative pressure space around the lungs. Because the lungs work on negative pressure ( when you breathe in, you aren’t blowing up a balloon your pulling air in like a vacuum cleaner), this pushes the air in the effected lung out, the lung collapses. since the lungs are co-dependent, the other lung also collapses. Crush injury to the chest or neck can prevent the chest from expanding, stopping breath.

  2. Rapid blood loss. Some injuries that cause rapid blood loss are, ruptured spleen or liver, partial amputation of a limb (complete amputation causes the blood vessels to snap back into the tissue, slowing the bleeding.) A fractured femur can cause one to lose their entire blood volume in to the thigh. Any of these can cause fatal blood loss in 1 to 5 minutes.

  3. Direct injury to the heart muscle. Although, this really goes back to # 2. When the heart can’t pump, the organs are deprived of oxygen, and fail within a minute or two.

  4. Tramatic injury to the brain stem, where the control of heart and lung function are located. This can be from the brain being violently sloshed around, dragging the base of the brain over the rough structures of the skull, leading to bleeding and/or swelling. The skull encloses the brain for protection, but leaves no room for anything else. The excess volume, either blood or fluid, pushes the brain into the opening for the spinal cord, damaging the breathing center, and the area that tells the heart to beat. A torn brain artery can cause this in as little as 30 seconds.
    If the spine is compromised at C-1 or C-2, the same area that controls heart and lung function is lost. Death is immediate.
    Injury to the spinal cord anywhere above C-4 can cause loss of respiratory function, but, the window for rescue is a little longer.

Drivers are killed less often than passengers, especially when they are belted.

The mechanism of injury (what happened to the car and the person, ie, roll over, ejected) will often be an indicator of what injuries to expect.

Rapid deceleration causes people and things to impact each other at different rates.
Stuff in the car will stop against you
The car stops against the tree, but you don’t.
Your head stops against the windshield (see #4) or the air bag.
Your knees stop against the fire wall, in older cars (see #2).
Drivers in cars without air bags stop against the steering wheel (see #s 1, 2 & 3).
Unbelted people stop against anything listed, and/or trees, pavement ground, other cars, water, the list goes on.
Seat belts prevent (most of the time) ejection from the vechicle. The changes of survival are greatly decreased when a body leaves the vechicle. There’s lots more stuff to hit outside, not the least of which is the ground.

I have also heard that the last thing to go through a person’s mind when he hits a wall is his ass.

Depending on the position of a back-seat passenger, it could be someone else’s ass. :wink:

Not sure where I heard this; it was either in a CPR class or in a TV documentary. During an automobile crash, there are three collisions/impacts. In the order they occur:
(1) The collision of the car with whatever causes it to abruptly stop its forward motion. This one actually doesn’t hurt you.
(2) The collision of the outer parts of your body with whatever abruptly stops its forward motion: the seatbelt, windshield, dashboard, steering wheel, etc. This can do enough damage to kill you, but your skeleton is built to absorb a certain amount of impact, and timely medical help may save your life.
(3) The collision of your soft inner parts with your hard outer parts. The impact of the heart, lungs, spleen against the skeleton can caurse them to rupture. This is usually what has happened when you hear that someone “died instantly” in a crash.

I guess it depends on how you define “death,” but I don’t think this is entirely accurate. As I understand it, everybody ultimately dies because the brain is disrupted enough to no longer function. Usually this happens because not enough oxygen is getting to the brain … which is usually caused by the lack of a pulse, of course. But we’re looking for the final link in the chain here! :wink: And I’m sure we could think of exceptions if we just go with “everybody dies because they don’t have a pulse” or “everybody dies because of lack of oxygen to the brain.”

There is a book called How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter by Sherwin B. Nuland that really covers the subject very well.
The first chapter covers the fact that it all comes down to air going in and out an blood going 'round and 'round