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The physics of a vehicle versus pedestrian collision

Not everyone wants to contemplate in detail exactly what happens to a pedestrian struck by a car or truck, but knowing the effects might improve some peoples' driving habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest statistics, over 4,300 people are killed and another 69,000 are injured in pedestrian accidents. That's one death every eight minutes on average and an injury every two. The physical damage done to the human body by several thousand pounds of metal moving at speed is catastrophic.

Trauma surgeons are frequently called upon to repair the consequences and they have a lot to say about it. The first points of contact between human body and automobile is often the hood and the pelvis. Leg and hip bones break, sometimes in several places. If the car or truck is moving fast enough, the victim can be pitched sideways or even over the vehicle, resulting in head and internal injuries.

There's more to a leg or arm fracture that most people know. In addition to the bone damage, nerves and blood vessels that run alongside the bones can be damaged or even destroyed. If the damage is severe enough, the surgeon may have no choice but to amputate. Large bones need a constant supply of blood, so a break can cause severe internal bleeding. It actually is possible to bleed to death from a broken hip. Bone heals slowly, and recovery can take many months. Some people never recover and become permanently disabled. Head injuries are a surgical crisis. There's no spare room in the skull for swelling or bleeding and even with lightning-fast treatment surgeons cannot always intervene in time to save someone whose fragile head has impacted the pavement or unyielding metal.

This is not a pre-Halloween scary story but a wake-up call for all drivers. Pedestrians may be immersed in text messaging or listening to music or not paying attention to the crosswalk signs. A few who know that the law requires vehicles to yield will walk boldly into the street, expecting the oncoming driver to see and stop. Keep in mind this fact - In a car versus pedestrian collision the car usually wins, leaving the driver to deal with the shock, guilt and possible legal consequences that follow.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "What it means when you get hit by a car," Beth Kassab, Sep. 18, 2012

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