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Minor Car Accidents on the Rise, Watch for Signs of Common Injuries

A young woman is on the phone with following a fender bender between two cars

Like me, you probably drive regularly. And, like me, you may have noticed more aggressive or unpredictable driving on our roads. I’ve seen more drivers rushing through the yellow light instead of slowing down. It feels like I can’t look in the rearview mirror without finding someone tailgating me. Blinker usage seems reduced by 200%. You've noticed more drivers pulled over to the side of the road because they were in minor car accidents.

I’m mostly joking. But the fact is that in 2021, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported over 118,000 crashes. That’s an increase of about 13,000 over the year before. And, there were 968 traffic-related deaths in 2021, an increase of about 14% compared to 2020.

More Crashes, More Injuries

These increases are large. Some of that is likely because COVID prevention measures kept people off the streets. But even in 2020, the year that COVID lockdowns began, the CDC reported 2.1 million emergency department visits from car crashes.

Why are crashes increasing? There are many reasons, including all of these on the rise:

With August being National Traffic Safety Awareness Month, it’s important to remind ourselves that, while not common, even slow-speed crashes can have lasting effects. We checked in with Thomas Hartka, MD, an emergency department physician at UVA Health, on some ways that minor car accidents can impact you.

High Speed Causes Most Injuries, But Minor Crashes Can Too

The most important factors that put you at risk of being injured in a car crash are:

High-speed collisions and those that cause your car to roll are the most likely to result in injuries. “Cars have the best protection when hit from the front or the back,” notes Hartka. “The risk of injury significantly increases for side impacts.”

Other factors can play a role also. If you're older, you’re at a higher risk for injury in all types of crashes. And, if you're Black, Latino, or lower income, you're more likely to die in a crash.

Most reported minor crashes don’t cause serious injuries. And, as Hartka reminds, wearing your seat belt is one of the most important ways to decrease your risk of injury. But sometimes, injuries do happen during lower-speed crashes. And any crash can also affect you emotionally and disrupt your daily life.

Look for Signs of Physical Trauma

The amount of force your body receives during a crash depends on many factors. Most important are the speed and direction of the impact. Even a minor accident can still apply significant force to your body.

The most common injuries from minor car crashes include:

Watch for Emotional Impacts

Car accidents are upsetting, even if they’re minor. There's the immediate hassle of dealing with police and insurance. Beyond that, some people have intense feelings following a car accident that they find difficult to manage. These feelings might get more intense or intrusive as time passes. They might cause someone to have trouble with their day-to-day life.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen after an emotionally stressful event. Signs of PTSD may develop quickly, or it may be weeks or even months after the accident before you notice an issue.

Not everyone who is in a car accident gets PTSD. But, signs of PTSD include:

Had a Fender Bender?

If you’ve been in a collision and think you need care, check in with one of our primary care providers.

Safe Driving: Your Best Defense Against Minor Car Accidents

Car accidents are a leading cause of injuries and death in the U.S. That’s why it’s important to know and follow safe driving practices, like:

If you're ever in a minor car accident, don’t hesitate to get checked out by a doctor. You’ll at least catch some issues early on. That could stop them from developing into something more serious.

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