Jan. 24, 2004 -- With more than 6 million car accidents a year, you may be surprised to learn that one of the biggest dangers you face in an accident doesn't come from outside your car.
Brent Miller, a Visalia, Calif. police officer, thought that making his new family buckle up before they hit the road meant they were safe. But all that changed three summers ago when he and his wife and baby son were driving in their Dodge Durango.
"This 21-year-old guy driving a small pickup truck decided to pass traffic going in the opposite direction," Miller said. "As he passed that traffic he collided with us head on."
Their son's car seat protected him from the crash, but what the Millers didn't foresee was that 1-year-old Jackson would be hit by a cell phone inside their own car. It cracked his skull.
Jackson was lucky. Even though he spent 10 days in intensive care, today he's fully recovered. But his parents learned an important lesson from the accident.
A groundbreaking new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and based on national traffic accident statistics, points out that an unrestrained passenger inside a car can leave other passengers in grave danger, even if they take proper precautions and wear seat belts.
In an accident, an unrestrained person becomes a deadly projectile. In a crash test performed as part of the study, a child-sized test dummy in the rear catapults forward, crashing into the dummy in the front as they both hit the windshield.
"An unrestrained passenger creates a risk to all others inside a vehicle, because they can be thrown about in a crash," said Sean Kane, a partner and co-founder of Strategic Safety, an organization that investigates automobile safety. "From head impacts to serious internal injuries, it's a wide range depending on the severity of the crash."
Risk Up by 25 Percent
The risk is surprisingly high. According to the study, if you are in a car crash, your chance of dying increases by as much as 25 percent when another person in the same car is not strapped in.
The study concludes that those who wish to reduce their risk of death in a crash should wear restraints and ask others to do the same.
But even when a driver and passengers are buckled in, any items that are not buckled down in the car could become airborne and kill you in the event of an accident.
Crash-test video shows a green cooler crushing the rear passenger and then continuing forward to slam into the driver, while a suitcase severs the arm of another passenger. Even an unrestrained pet can shatter a windshield, the video shows.
In fact, Strategic Safety found that everything from luggage to soda pop cans that were not tied down were responsible for more than 13,000 injuries in accidents nationwide in just one year.
"Anything in your vehicle that is not attached to the vehicle, can fly off and hit somebody causing severe damage," Miller said. "And my son is a perfect case of it."