Is Acceleration a Valid Proxy for Injury Risk in Minimal Damage Traffic Crashes? A Comparative Review of Volunteer, ADL and Real-World Studies

Paul S. Nolet, Larry Nordhoff, Vicki L. Kristman, Arthur C. Croft, Maurice P. Zeegers, Michael D. Freeman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Injury claims associated with minimal damage rear impact traffic crashes are often defended using a "biomechanical approach," in which the occupant forces of the crash are compared to the forces of activities of daily living (ADLs), resulting in the conclusion that the risk of injury from the crash is the same as for ADLs. The purpose of the present investigation is to evaluate the scientific validity of the central operating premise of the biomechanical approach to injury causation; that occupant acceleration is a scientifically valid proxy for injury risk. Data were abstracted, pooled, and compared from three categories of published literature: (1) volunteer rear impact crash testing studies, (2) ADL studies, and (3) observational studies of real-world rear impacts. We compared the occupant accelerations of minimal or no damage (i.e., 3 to 11 kph speed change or "delta V") rear impact crash tests to the accelerations described in 6 of the most commonly reported ADLs in the reviewed studies. As a final step, the injury risk observed in real world crashes was compared to the results of the pooled crash test and ADL analyses, controlling for delta V. The results of the analyses indicated that average peak linear and angular acceleration forces observed at the head during rear impact crash tests were typically at least several times greater than average forces observed during ADLs. In contrast, the injury risk of real-world minimal damage rear impact crashes was estimated to be at least 2000 times greater than for any ADL. The results of our analysis indicate that the principle underlying the biomechanical injury causation approach, that occupant acceleration is a proxy for injury risk, is scientifically invalid. The biomechanical approach to injury causation in minimal damage crashes invariably results in the vast underestimation of the actual risk of such crashes, and should be discontinued as it is a scientifically invalid practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2901
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2021


  • biomechanics
  • injury causation
  • rear impact crash
  • activities of daily living


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