Rollovers are among the deadliest of motor vehicle accidents. The reason is that many of the car’s safety features do little to protect the occupants from rollover injuries. Car bumpers and crumple zones for example, are effective at protecting against front and rear collisions. However, the rollover accident stresses the sides and roof of the car instead, both of which are comparatively weak. Although federal regulations require roofs to withstand 1.5 times the vehicle’s weight, real world rollover accidents can subject the roof to greater impact forces or to concentrated loads from hitting a large boulder or highway structure.
Another danger to the occupants is the violent tumbling motions from which the seat and shoulder belts can only provide limited protection. The standard air bags for head-on collisions also offer little protection. Although most vehicles are getting structurally stronger, popular vehicles such as lightweight trucks and SUVs have a higher center of gravity which makes them more prone to rollovers.
Causes and Types of Rollover Injuries
- Roof crush injuries. In addition to forces that exceed federal strength requirements, defects in roof pillars and roof materials as well as design flaws can cause roof crush. Head and brain injuries, neck fractures, and spinal cord injuries often occur when the roof collapses onto the car occupants.
- Ejection injuries. Ejection from the vehicle can occur in a number of ways. People who aren’t wearing seat belts can be thrown completely or partially out of shattered windows. The sides of the vehicle can become warped, especially during a roof crush. This can cause latch failure and open doors through which people are ejected. Complete or partial ejection will cause a variety of injuries including decapitation, amputation of limbs, and crush injuries.
- Seat belt failure injuries. Sometimes in the violence of a rollover, the seat belt may unbuckle or the spooling mechanism may let the belt unspool. This will allow the occupant to strike the roof, side window, or other structures in the vehicle. These impacts may cause head, brain, neck, and spinal cord injuries. Seat belt failure can also lead to injuries caused by ejection from the vehicle.
In summary, rollover injuries primarily affect the head and neck, followed by injury to the upper limbs, lower limbs, upper trunk area, and abdomen.