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The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders reports that 1.4 million people suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) every year. Half of these are the result of transportation accidents, including car, motorcycle, and car-pedestrian crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 17 percent of TBIs are caused by traffic accidents—the second leading cause, after falls—and that traffic accidents result in the largest percentage of TBI-related deaths.

Unfortunately, TBIs aren’t always readily noticeable right after a crash. That’s why it’s important that drivers and passengers know what to look for, and take adequate precautions to protect themselves both physically and legally.

What is a TBI?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a TBI occurs when an external mechanical force causes brain dysfunction. Such a force may be a violent blow or jolt to the head or body, which can result in a temporary dysfunction of brain cells, bruising, torn tissues, bleeding, and other damage that can cause long-term complications and even death.

Symptoms, however, are wide-ranging and not always immediately evident after an accident or a crash.

What Are the Symptoms of a TBI?

Many medical organizations have noted that TBIs can go undetected for months, and sometimes even for years. The NCIOM Task Force on Behavioral Health Services for the Military and Their Families noted that the condition has been described as an “invisible wound” because of its ability to escape medical diagnosis.

The problem is that TBIs can vary widely. Two individuals can sustain the same type of force, but experience completely different effects. Individual symptoms depend on which brain cells are damaged, and what affects that damage will have on one person’s ability to function. In addition, because the injury is usually unseen—not visible to the naked eye—it can be more difficult to diagnose.

Some common symptoms, however, may include:

  • Motor skill problems
  • Speech difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating or solving problems
  • Judgment lapses
  • Trouble organizing activities
  • Moodiness and other personality changes
  • Depression and anxiety

In a car accident, a number of factors can cause a TBI. If a passenger goes through the windshield, hits his head on the steering wheel, or otherwise suffers a blow to the head, a TBI is possible. Even if there is no visible damage, drivers and passengers should always be examined for potential brain injuries.

Tips to Prevent TBIs

New York’s Department of Health states that the best way to avoid TBIs in car accidents is to wear a seat belt. Front and side airbags also help reduce the risk of injuries, as do child car seats. Motorcycle helmets provide protection for motorcycle drivers, as do bicycle helmets for bike riders.

For victims of a car crash, it’s important to watch for any signs of brain injury in the weeks following an accident. Cases that go unreported can result in substantial medical costs down the road, which could be better offset in the initial claim related to the crash.

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