As regrettable as they are, collisions involving celebrities are a time when a large segment of society is interested in knowing what happened. And this can be a valuable opportunity to educate those who may otherwise be unreachable. But those opportunities are almost always lost. The details that could be used to provide that education are kept from the public. Such, unfortunately, will likely be the reality in the latest celebrity collision involving Tiger Woods.

It was reported that Tiger Woods, perhaps the most known and talented golfer of the current generation, was involved in a single vehicle collision on Hawthrone Boulevard in suburban Los Angeles, California on the morning of February 23, 2021. Some Googlemaps images below should clarify where the collision site was located.

The Google view below shows the centre of Los Angeles on the upper right and the orange circle in the centre shows the location of the collision site.

The view below outlines the path that Tiger Woods would have taken if he travelled along several kilometres of Hawthorne Boulevard up to where the collision occurred at the orange circle. Note that there would have been many sharp horizontal curves along this path that were much sharper than the one approaching the collision site. We would what to know how vertical curves (up-grades and down-grades) might have related to the safety of the roadway. Whenever horizontal and vertical curves are combined this can be a challenging environment for many drivers, especially when environmental factors such as rain or snow are introduced. It was noted that the roadway was dry at the time of the Woods’ crash.

The view below shows the collision site with a measurement taken from the centre median to the approximate final rest position of the SUV. This distance is in the general range of 130 metres. This distance is not exceptionally large. But we have no information about what events occurred prior to the median impact.

The news media provided many photos of damaged SUV lying on its side and we were told that this was a rollover collision.

The use of the term “rollover’ to describe the collision is a misnomer. While Woods’ SUV obviously came to a stop on its side the most important characteristic on the damaged SUV was the major frontal crush that occurred at a low level. This is why Woods reportedly sustained his leg injuries. The rearward displacement of the front wheels was an important identifier of the large amount of kinetic energy that was dissipated in this region. The right front wheel was pushed back further than the left-front, again indicating this is where the greatest force was concentrated.

But there was also minimal crush of the hood. And the left-front fender also sustained very little crush.  Such facts help to identify how the frontal impact occurred. This damage is more common when a vehicle plows into an embankment. Such an embankment impact would occur at a typical T-intersection where a driver fails to detect the end of the road and drives through the intersection striking the embankment that might exist on the opposite side of the road. The greater crush at the right front would indicate that the vehicle was leading with its right front corner when the impact occurred. The force was likely oriented upward from the ground as if  the SUV was diving down into the earth. Obviously Tiger Woods did not travel through such a T-intersection so we would want to know what conditions existed causing an impact of a similar nature.

There were other areas of damage to the rear corners of the SUV which were not as severe as the frontal impact. While it was stated that the SUV rolled over several times there is little evidence on the vehicle exterior to support that claim. While it is possible for a vehicle to make isolated contacts with the ground and the lifting off the ground, it would be rare that scrapes and scratches to the painted surfaces would not exist. Also the side roof rails of the vehicle do not appear to have been damaged and such damage would be very common in a rollover. Again, we are not saying that multiple rollover events did not take place, but the evidence of the exterior of the vehicle requires that further explanations be provided.

As typical, police and news agencies have provided little information about the path of the SUV from the road to its final rest position so the specifics of how and why the collision occurred cannot be known. Some comments were reportedly made by investigating police that no tire marks were found in the northbound lane preceding the SUVs impact with the centre median. Such a fact is not surprising. Modern electronic stability control (ESC) systems that would exist on the Hyundai Genesis SUV would become activated preventing the yaw-type rotation that would have occurred if such systems did not exist. Such activation would prevent any tire marks from occurring that could be detected by the naked eye. Many events could have occurred for several hundred metres before the impact of the centre median and we would be completely unaware of them. Fortunately modern-day vehicles are equipped with event data recorders (“Black Boxes”) that would capture a variety of data for several seconds leading up to the crash. Some vehicles can also capture snap-shots of those events. This is why news media should be asking police to release this data for public consideration.  But, as has been customary, such useful information is unlikely to reach the public.

Many lessons could be learned during this time when the public’s interest is high. As an example, an understanding could be had that modern safety systems are geared for typical impacts where horizontal forces exist or where lower-severity rollover forces exist. But these systems are not well-adjusted to impacts where the force is applied upward from the floor pan. Air bags protect the head and chest areas. Three-point seat-belts also protect much of the upper body. But there is little done to protect the lower portion of an occupant’s body. Generally, leg injuries are not very life-threatening.

Using a coding scheme such as the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS)  we can code the severity of injuries according to this six-point scale whereby level “6” would be untreatable (decapitation for example) and level “1” might be a soft-tissue neck stain. For injuries to the lower extremities the highest magnitude of injury could be coded a level “3”, or serious, if a femur is fractured. And with other uncommon complications even a level “4” code might be possible. But these would be quite uncommon. It is generally not possible to sustain a level “5” or “6” lower-extremity injury. So those agencies whose mission it is to prevent death are not as eager to focus on lower extremity injuries even though they may be quite debilitating.

Injury causation must be a part of our societal understanding and training so that we can better select how we function and what we do to prevent injury. This understanding and training is continually lost when essential information about collisions is kept from the public.