In 2022, an estimated 42,795 people died in a car accident due to common causes of distracted driving, speeding, alcohol and drug use, and broken cars. As a result, motor vehicle collisions remain the leading cause of death globally.
Common injuries come from front, side and rear crashes that can cause rib fractures, pelvic and abdominal trauma, and neck and spine injuries. Head injuries are common in blunt force traumas, which can be deadly. Additionally, skull fractures, brain bleeding and tears in tissues are often life-threatening.
We know about the dangers of diverting your attention on the road (obviously texting and driving is a given). “Vehicles can cover great distances in a matter of seconds,” Dr. Brad Uren, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School told HuffPost. “If you are distracted by your phone, your ability to react to roadway emergencies, including other vehicles, animals, pedestrians or other hazards is significantly limited.”
But in addition to that, there are some common habits many of us do that can be a threat to our safety. We asked doctors, including trauma specialists, about the surprising car mistakes that can be dangerous or deadly on the road. Here are the things they would never do while in a car:
Put feet up on the dashboard
Kicking your legs and feet up on a car’s dashboard might seem relaxing and trivial, but it can have many dangers, Dr. David Abbasi, a board-certified orthopedic sport surgeon based in Palm Beach County, Florida, told HuffPost.
“In the event of a collision, you would face serious orthopedic injuries to your lower extremities, which would be life-changing, such as broken bones, dislocations, which may require amputations or loss of limbs,” Abbasi said. “Don’t do it.”
Abbasi’s TikTok video gained 8.7 million views showcasing fractures in an X-ray after someone placed their feet on the dashboard.
Although airbags prevent injuries to the head and upper body during a crash, airbags also deploy quickly and can cause fatal injuries when a passenger is too close to or comes into direct contact with it. Since frontal airbags are meant to protect the upper portion of the body — having your legs up can cause them to be pushed back by the force of airbags.
“The energy from the collision and airbag transfers into the legs on the dashboard,” Abbasi said. Instead, you should be sitting in your car seat the same way you would sit in an office or classroom — with support in your back and legs.
Wear a claw clip
Claw clips have become one of the most popular hair accessories, making a comeback from the ’90s. Although the clip is a quick and functional way to get your hair up and out of your face, doctors are warning people about the potential risks of wearing it in a car during an accident.
One TikTok user documented her emergency room visit after getting into a car accident while wearing a claw clip, showcasing a gash in the back of her head.
Dr. Betsy Grunch, a board-certified neurosurgeon at Longstreet Clinical Neurosurgery based in Gainesville, Georgia, duetted the video, confirming the risks associated with driving with the hair accessory, adding, “The more likely scenario is that you would have to have your scalp repaired.”
“Claw clips worn on the back of the head can be a risk if you are involved in an accident. They can cause damage to your scalp and could possibly cause a traumatic brain injury by the object being embedded into the back of your head,” Grunch told HuffPost. “However, the skull is very thick in the occipital region, so fatality as a result of wearing a claw clip would be extremely unlikely.”
Traumatic brain injuries can be classified as mild, moderate or severe — with most severe TBIs being a result of car crashes from blunt trauma. To prevent further injuries, it might be helpful to switch your claw clip for a softer option.
“Any object in the car can become dangerous in an auto accident,” Grunch said. “A scrunchie, rubber band or other soft hair tie would be best.”
Switch out a kid’s car seat too soon
Car accidents are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. However, having the right seats and belts can reduce injuries and death by 80%.
Dr. Meghan Martin, a pediatric emergency doctor at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, said there are dangers that come with moving your child out of a safe car seat too soon.
“I would not rush to get my kid out of a car seat. Rear-facing is absolutely the safest if that kid is within the height and weight limit of the seat,” Martin told HuffPost. “As soon as you forward-face them, you’re starting to increase the risks, especially if they’re too young; it creates more tension on the neck and the body, and puts them at more risk for injuries.”
For children ages 2-4, using a rear-facing car seat with a harness is the best protection. When children outgrow the rear-facing seat, they can use a forward-facing seat with a harness and a top tether until the age of 5. A booster seat can be used when the forward-facing seat is outgrown until the seat belt can fit across them correctly and comfortably.
“With car seats, there’s a huge difference in the kids that come in to trauma alerts that were not in a car seat, and then the kids that were properly restrained. We rarely see a properly restrained kid that comes in to trauma alert,” Martin said.
Hold pets in the front seat
The Humane Society shared the importance of traveling safely with your pet, which includes not letting them roam the car and keeping them in the back seats.
Dr. Sarah Hoggan, the medical director of the VCA California Veterinary Specialists Murrieta facility, told HuffPost that pets should never ride loosely in a vehicle — and that includes being in the front seats.
“Most dogs do not meet the airbag minimum size requirements, and even those that do, do not have the anatomy for basic seatbelts to be protective,” Hoggan said. “Hence, the measures added to vehicles to enhance human survival can increase the risk of fatal trauma to most pets. That means neither the front seat position, passenger seat, nor driver’s lap is safe.”
It doesn’t help that our pets can be squirmy, jumping around from seat to seat, which can also be distracting to the driver.
“They will move about, like getting down by the pedals or blocking your view of the road, and if they get scared or startled, they could panic and start to bite,” Hoggan said. “Additionally, even a calm dog can be a significant distraction, so holding them on your lap puts you both in danger.”
Decorate the steering wheel
Injuries are not uncommon in car accidents, especially when there is contact with the steering wheel. Although any item in a car can become dangerous during a car crash, having decorations on the steering wheel can be pushed into your face and other passengers.
“Rhinestones or jewels on a steering wheel can cause harm if there is an accident,” Daniella Lamour, an emergency physician based in Boynton Beach, Florida, told HuffPost. “It can act as a projectile once in contact with airbags and injure those in the vehicle.”
Car accessories can be dangerous, especially when they interfere with airbags. Same goes for loose items, which were responsible for 13,000 car crashes in one year.
“The injuries depend on the area of impact,” Lamour said. “For example, if shrapnel (rhinestones, crystals, etc.) were to land in the eye, you can have a penetrating globe injury. It could also get embedded in the skin requiring surgical removal at times. Where it lands will ultimately determine the extent of the injury.”