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The Forces Involved in Car Crashes: Injuries and Investigations

Did you know that motor vehicle crashes cost the U.S. economy $340 billion annually? Even worse, they claim the lives of thousands of people yearly. In 2021 alone, over 42,000 people died due to these incidents.

Even in non-fatal collisions, drivers and passengers can still sustain severe bodily injuries. After all, the force of a car crashing into another obstacle can jolt, shake, or even eject the people inside.

But what exactly happens to a vehicle when it collides with another solid object? How does this affect the people in the car, and what injuries could they sustain?

Read on, as our guide below addresses all those questions.

The Physics of a Car Crashing Against Another Object

When a car collides with another solid object, it transfers energy to whatever it hits. This energy transfer can result in property damage and bodily injuries. The more energy transferred, the greater the car crash force and the worse the damage or injury is.

The extent of damage or injury also depends on whether the hit object is static (at rest) or moving.

For example, suppose that a vehicle crashes into a static, unbreakable wall. The car exerts a force in the wall’s direction. However, the wall, being at rest and immovable, exerts an equal force back on the vehicle.

That equal force, per Newton’s third law of motion, can make a car turn into an accordion during such a crash.

What about a car that had a high-speed, head-on collision with another moving vehicle?

In that case, the energy within the crash would have been greater than in the car-to-wall example. That’s because both vehicles are moving and, thus, carry more power. Therefore, there’s more energy transferred when they hit each other.

Injury Severity and Car Crash G-Force

G-force stands for “gravitational force equivalent.” It’s one of the many factors influencing the severity of car crash injuries.

In road incidents, the “G-force” is the force acting in the opposite direction of a car’s movement. To calculate this, you must consider the following factors:

  • Your vehicle’s speed
  • If you had your seatbelt on
  • If your airbag deployed
  • The type of car you’re driving
  • The other solid object you hit

The formula to calculate the impact’s force is F = m * v² / (2 * d).

F stands for “force,” m is for mass, v² is for speed to the 2nd power, and d is the distance traveled during the crash.

Typically, the slower your vehicle speed, the less the force is. This translates to your body absorbing less impact. This may then result in less severe injuries.

Likewise, seatbelt use during a crash can reduce the forces transferred to the body. After all, this protective item stops your body from crashing into your car’s interior. It also helps keep you in place rather than getting ejected from your vehicle.

Most Common Injuries Following a Crash

Car crashes don’t have to be high-speed to cause injuries; they can injure people even at speeds of 5 mph.

That’s a good enough reason to visit a doctor immediately after you’ve been in a crash. Because even if you think you’re okay, you may already have severe, albeit hidden, injuries. Contacting a car accident lawyer can help, too, as they can assist you in filing a claim for your damages and losses.

As for the most common crash injuries, they can be impact or penetrating. Impact injuries result from a person striking any other solid object. Penetrating injuries occur when loose objects strike and puncture a collision victim.

Soft Tissue Injuries

These are the most common impact injuries that result from motor vehicle collisions.

One reason is that damaging the soft tissues doesn’t take much force. Think about it; a pinch alone can already cause bruising because it can damage the tiny blood vessels. So, an impact against a car’s interior can undoubtedly do more damage.

Soft tissue crash injuries also include sprains and strains.

Sprains affect the ligaments around a joint, such as those in the elbow. Strains result from overstretching or tearing of muscles.

Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash injuries can occur even at speeds as low as five mph. These impact injuries happen when the head forcibly and rapidly moves back and forth. This movement, similar to the cracking of a whip, can injure neck muscles, tendons, and discs.

Whiplash injuries can be minor to severe, and their symptoms can last a few days to several weeks. However, only about half of patients recover completely. The other 50% develop chronic WAD (whiplash-associated disorder) and experience severe pain.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)

TBIs, another type of impact injury, damage the brain cells. They result from a jolting, jarring motion to the brain.

TBIs can occur during a car crash that causes the neck to snap forward on impact. They can also happen when the skull hits another solid object, such as the side window or the dashboard.

Chest Injuries

Your chest can sustain damage when a crash’s momentum throws you forward. This may result from your seatbelt’s pressure against your thoracic area. However, it may also be due to the impact of your chest hitting the steering wheel.

Chest injuries, or thoracic trauma, can sometimes just involve minor bruising. However, they can also result in rib fractures. When rib bones break, they can puncture blood vessels or internal organs.


Fractures, or broken bones, are impact injuries that can cause a bone to crack, chip, or splinter. They may either be a complete or a partial fracture. In some cases, car crashes can cause the bone to shatter into multiple pieces.

Never Underestimate Motor Vehicle Collisions

Remember: A car crashing against another object can cause injuries even at a speed as low as five mph. That’s a good enough reason to see a doctor after a road incident, no matter how minor you think it was. It’s the best way to confirm and treat any hidden injuries you may have sustained.

Besides, you’d need to present medical reports if you decide to file an insurance claim. Your doctor, in turn, is the only one who can provide these documents.

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