Isaac Newton, Whiplash, and the Forces of a Car Accident

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Isaac Newton, Whiplash, and the Forces of a Car Accident
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 7/1/2019

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion – an object at rest stays at rest, and an object is motion stays in motion with the same speed unless it is interrupted by another force. Motor vehicles are the epitome of Newton’s physics lessons. Let’s take the typical rear end motor vehicle collision. Driver A is at a stop at a red light. Driver B is texting while driving, fails to notice Driver A stopped at the red light, and collides with the rear of Driver A’s vehicle at 35 MPH. The force of Driver B’s vehicle is transferred into Driver A’s car. Since Driver A’s torso is belted to the vehicle, it tends to move forward with the car. However, Driver A’s upper back and neck are not as constrained and tend to stay at rest. This is the whiplash effect. As your lower body moves forward with the vehicle, your head and neck appear to whip backwards until the headrest moves forward to impart a new force on the head.

These whiplash forces are exactly why – even in a low speed motor vehicle collision – a driver’s neck can experience pain symptoms. The ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the neck are not built to endure these types of forces. They stretch and tear (or even rupture) depending on the speeds and rates of acceleration involved in the auto accident. And, unfortunately, the body can mend these internal wounds, but current medicine cannot fully heal these types of injuries.

These dynamics apply equally to other types of collisions, as well. Imagine a T-bone collision scenario, instead of a rear-ender. Driver A heads straight through the intersection as Driver B runs a red light colliding with the passenger side panel of Driver A’s car. Driver A’s vehicle will continue straight as the impact from Driver B pushes the car sideways. Driver A’s head and neck will stay at rest as the car is pushed. When the structure of the neck runs out of range of motion, it will whip back towards the window likely causing strain or sprain but also blunt force trauma against the window.

It’s important to understand these dynamics when thinking about motor vehicle collisions. Whiplash injuries have a bad rap in the world of personal injury and insurance claims. Insurance adjusters (and their highly paid “expert” witnesses) believe that no matter the forces involved in the collision, whiplash injuries should be minimal and resolve in a short amount of time.

Knowing the mechanics of auto collisions can go a long way to helping you resolve your injury claim. There is a massive imbalance of power and knowledge in these situations. The adjusters have been trained and have literal scripts that can be used to leverage all types of information to favor minimal or no settlements. With this information, drivers can hold insurance companies accountable and prevent them from minimizing the effects of motor vehicle collisions.

If you’ve been involved in an auto accident, a quick call to a qualified personal injury attorney can provide the information you need to maintain a favorable insurance claim. At Magnuson Lowell PS, our experienced car accident and insurance attorneys have dedicated their practice to helping injured parties work with at-fault insurance companies to ensure fair and reasonable settlements. With Isaac Newton’s rules in their bags of tricks, our attorneys will ensure that insurance adjusters play by the rules (of physics!).


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