Multiple, life-threatening injuries, often termed polytrauma, do not only demonstrate a high risk of mortality, but also for long-term or persistent disabilities for surviving victims. Road traffic accidents represent the most frequent cause for polytraumata in Germany. However, there are only estimates for the annual incidence rate of these critical injuries and little information exists about the share of different road users among these patients and their respective injury patterns. This is partly due to the fact that – at least in Germany – these most severely injured cannot be identified from national traffic accident statistics.
A multi-center study is being conducted in a large part of southern Germany that attempts to document all polytrauma cases from traffic accidents and the circumstances of the collisions in a defined geographical region over a 14-month period. Patients with an Injury Severity Score ISS > 15 and injuries in at least two body regions are included for evaluation. This paper describes injuries sustained by 34 car and minivan occupants during the first months of the study, the related collision configurations and the vehicle passive safety features that were used or activated, like seat belts and airbags. Most of the occupants were between 18 and 45 years old. More women than men had severe multiple injuries, especially in the range above 35 years of age. Drivers were by far the largest group among the patients and a substantial number of them were unbelted. Many of the involved vehicles were from the small or compact car segment and belonged to older model generations, but most of them featured driver and passenger airbags and sometimes also airbags for side protection.
The most severe injuries (AIS 4 and 5) were those to the head and especially to the thorax. Severe spine injuries were few and limited to side impacts or ejection from the vehicle.