1997-02-24

Heart Injuries Among Restrained Occupants in Frontal Crashes 970392

The William Lehman Injury Research Center has conducted multi-disciplinary investigations of one hundred seventy-eight crashes involving adult occupants protected by safety belts and air bags. In all cases, serious injuries were suspected. Nine cases involved serious heart injuries. These cases are not representative of crashes in general. However, when used in conjunction with National Accident Sampling System; Crashworthiness Data System (NASS/CDS) they provide insight into the most severe injuries suffered by restrained occupants in frontal crashes.
Heart injuries are rare, but when they occur they are usually life threatening. NASS/CDS shows that heart injuries comprise about 0.2% of the injuries in frontal tow-away crashes. In the NHTSA file of Special Crash Investigations (SCI) of air bag cases, heart injuries are reported in 1% of the occupants over 15 years of age. Twenty-five percent of the fatally injured occupants had heart injuries, and 83% of those with heart injury died. In the Lehman Center cases, heart injuries are present in 5.1% of the cases. Forty percent of the fatally injured had heart injury, and 78% of the victims with heart injury died. There is a compelling urgency for the early diagnosis and treatment of heart injuries. Studies of the limited data available provide the basis for premises to better define triage criteria for restrained occupants. This paper suggests two additional triage criteria, based on observations from multi-disciplinary studies. These include: (1) passengers in 2-point belts and crashes of 25 mph or higher, with the lap belt unfastened or with the seat full forward; (2) drivers in crash conditions which delay the air bag deployment or permit the driver to be close to the air bag at deployment.

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