University of Oulu

Julius Tikka, Philippe Lunetta, Land-traffic crash leading to passenger vehicle submersion, drowning and other fatal injuries: A 44-year study based on records from the Finnish Crash Data Institute, Journal of Safety Research, Volume 77, 2021, Pages 99-104, ISSN 0022-4375,

Land-traffic crash leading to passenger vehicle submersion, drowning and other fatal injuries : a 44-year study based on records from the Finnish Crash Data Institute

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Author: Tikka, Julius1,2; Lunetta, Philippe2,3
Organizations: 1Forensic Medicine Unit, The National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of Biomedicine, Forensic Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
3Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Elsevier, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-07-08


Background: Land motor traffic crash (LMTC) -related drownings are an overlooked and preventable cause of injury death. The aim of this study was to analyze the profile of water-related LMTCs involving passenger cars and leading to drowning and fatal injuries in Finland, 1972 through 2015.

Materials and methods: The database of the Finnish Crash Data Institute (FCDI) that gathers detailed information on fatal traffic accidents provided records on all LMTCs leading to drowning during the study period and, from 2002 to 2015, on all water-related LMTCs, regardless of the cause of death. For each crash, we considered variables on circumstances, vehicle, and fatality profiles.

Results: During the study period, the FCDI investigated 225 water-related LMTCs resulting in 285 fatalities. The majority of crashes involved passenger cars (124), and the cause of death was mostly drowning (167). Only 61 (36.5%) fatalities suffered some–generally mild–injuries. The crashes frequently occurred during fall or summer (63.7%), in a river or ditch (60.5%), and resulted in complete vehicle’s submersion (53.7 %). Half of the crashes occurred in adverse weather conditions and in over 40% of the cases, the driver had exceeded the speed limit. Among drivers, 77 (68.8%) tested positive for alcohol (mean BAC 1.8%).

Conclusion: Multidisciplinary investigations of LMTCs have a much higher potential than do exclusive police and medico-legal investigations. The risk factors of water-related LMTCs are similar to those of other traffic crashes. However, generally the fatal event in water-related LMTC is not the crash itself, but drowning. The paucity of severe physical injuries suggests that victims’ functional capacity is usually preserved during vehicle submersion.

Practical Applications: In water-related LMTCs, expansion of safety measures is warranted from general traffic-injury prevention to prevention of drowning, including development of safety features for submerged vehicles and simple self-rescue protocols to escape from a sinking vehicle.

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Series: Journal of safety research
ISSN: 0022-4375
ISSN-E: 1879-1247
ISSN-L: 0022-4375
Volume: 77
Pages: 99 - 104
DOI: 10.1016/j.jsr.2021.02.007
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3142 Public health care science, environmental and occupational health
112 Statistics and probability
520 Other social sciences
Funding: This work was supported with a grant by the Finnish Crash Data Institute. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Finnish Crash Data Institute.
Copyright information: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by the National Safety Council and Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (