Occupant injury severity from lateral collisions: a literature review

J Safety Res. 2009;40(6):427-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2009.08.005. Epub 2009 Oct 24.


Problem: Side impacts are a serious automotive injury problem; they represent about 30% of all fatalities for passenger vehicle occupants. This literature review focuses on occupant injuries resulting from real lateral collisions. It emphasizes the interaction between injury patterns and crash factors, taking into account type of injuries and their severity. It highlights what is known on the subject and suggests further studies.

Method: We reviewed papers identified by searches in two electronic databases for the 1996-2009 publication period, and in specific journals and conference proceedings.

Results: Studies on the Primary Direction of Force (PDOF) have revealed that fatal crashes occur most frequently when the PDOF is at 3 or 9 o'clock. The risk of serious injury is two to three times higher for the near-side occupant than for the far-side occupant. Head injuries predominate in oblique impacts and thoracic injuries in perpendicular ones. A few results are also reported on side airbag protection.

Conclusions: This literature review presents an overall picture of the injuries caused by lateral collisions, though each of the papers or articles examined focuses mostly on some particular aspect of the problem. The incidence of specific injuries depends on the data source used. Very few population-based analyses of lateral collision injuries were found.

Impact on industry: New studies are needed to evaluate new protective devices (e.g., lateral airbags, inflatable curtains). Without interfering with their care duties, Emergency Medical Technicians could be systematically trained to observe the collision's specific characteristics and to report all their relevant observations to the emergency physicians to increase the likelihood of prompt diagnosis and proper care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / classification*
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Databases as Topic
  • Humans
  • Trauma Severity Indices*
  • Wounds and Injuries / classification*
  • Wounds and Injuries / physiopathology