The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in 2005 that after adjusting for the increase of cars and drivers on the roads, fatalities on U.S. highways have decreased since 1972. But despite these findings, deaths and injuries attributed to rollovers and roof crushes have increased in the last three decades. This is due in part to the popularity of SUVs, which have a higher center of gravity than passenger cars, making them more susceptible to single-vehicle rollover accidents.
But the rate of both single and multiple vehicle rollover accidents for a particular type of vehicle is only part of the equation. While smaller vehicles usually experience less deformation of the roof in a rollover accident, many larger vehicles, particularly pick-up trucks, cannot withstand a rollover without significant roof crush.
Roof crush occurs when an inverted vehicle and its center of gravity begin a downward path into the road or ground, resulting in an energy assault to the vehicle’s structure and over compression of its roof supports. The resulting intrusion or encroachment of the roof into the passenger space can lead to serious injuries or death.
The energy of the rolling vehicle transfers compressive forces onto the top of the skull while the head is in an upright position. The compression energy is then transferred to the neck, often causing a bursting fracture in the lower cervical spine. In addition to lower cervical neck fractures, the passenger may also receive a closed head injury, a contusion or even death.
In defense against the attention roof crush injuries have attracted, the auto industry has proposed that “diving injuries” may be more prevalent than expected. In this type of injury, the occupant “dives” into the vehicle’s roof, flexing the head forward before impacting the roof. This type of injury can occur even when the passenger had his or her seat belt fastened prior to the rollover. In a rollover, the vehicle’s occupant can become unrestrained for many reasons, including inertia release of the buckle, come-out, false latching, and inadvertent or unintentional release.
In diving injuries, however, the cervical vertebrae tend to fracture in ways other than a burst fracture. The force tends to result in a loss of anterior vertebrae body height instead of a loss of both anterior and posterior intravertebral space, which is a telltale sign of a burst fracture caused by a roof crush injury.
Regardless of the kinds of injuries suffered, the NHTSA has determined that there is a definitive link between a vehicle’s roof strength, the roof crushing and the resulting injuries. But what is most disturbing is that auto industry documents have revealed that carmakers have known for decades that stronger roofs would save lives, yet chose not to do anything about it.
Roof pillars in most vehicles may appear to be solid and sturdy to the average observer. But most are nothing more than hollow folded or molded corrugated sheet metal. Safer designs are reinforced with baffle plates or are filled with rigid foam, which can triple their strength. They also tend to be made up of closed sections (like an “O” rather than a “C”) and contain tubular windshield headers, roof side rails, and lateral cross-members, connected with reinforcing gussets.
If you were seriously injured or a loved one was killed or injured in a rollover accident, the vehicle involved should be preserved for a thorough inspection and collection of evidence, which should include the “head print” to determine the point of impact. A biomedical or biomechanical expert should be hired to study the physical injuries and medical records. Please call or email us today to consult with an experienced roof crush attorney. We will work with experts and who understand all that is involved in roof crush cases and we will represent you in any lawsuits related to the accident.