NJ Governor Jon Corzine: The consequences of not wearing seatbelts

Having done a lot of trauma coverage in my time (although the last time I covered trauma call was nearly eight years ago), I have to admit that, when I first heard of the motor vehicle collision (I never call such crashes “accidents” because they rarely are) in which New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was seriously injured, the first question that popped into my mind after “How did this happen?” was:

Was the Governor wearing seatbelts?

Of course, I strongly suspected that I already knew the answer, and, indeed, I did. The answer was no. Here’s what apparently happened:

Gov. Jon S. Corzine was not wearing a seat belt and was sent hurtling into the back seat when his SUV tore into a guard rail along the Garden State Parkway Thursday night, according to two people who were with the governor in the hours after the crash.

One hospital source also said Corzine is in worse condition than has been publicly acknowledged, and that he could be in a wheelchair for six months.


Corzine’s injuries include:

  1. Large scalp laceration.
  2. Fractured clavicle.
  3. Fractured sternum. I point out that it takes a really high-energy hit to the chest to fracture a sternum.
  4. Fractured ribs, six on each side. It sounds as though this may well have been enough to give Governor Corzine a flail chest, a condition where there is paradoxical movement of the chest wall inward with each breath using the diaphragm, severely compromising respiration. No wonder he’s still on a ventilator. Given his sternal fracture and multiple rib fractures, Corzine almost certainly also has a nasty underlying pulmonary contusion that could easily blossom into ARDS, which could kill him if it develops. (If enough force hits you to break your sternum and multiple ribs, it’s a good bet that it banged around the underlying lung tissue as well.) Corzine’s chest injuries are certainly his most life-threatening injuries at this point.
  5. Fractured lower vertebrae.
  6. An open, comminuted femur fracture with a large laceration and muscle damage.

Corzine required seven units of blood and needed to undergo surgery to fix his femur. Even if he does not suffer complications from his chest injury, such as pneumonia and ARDS, he will likely not be able to walk again for months, and will require more surgeries to wash out the damaged and devitalized tissue and to complete the repair of his femur.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. There’s no other word for it.

I’m not saying that Corzine wouldn’t have been injured if he had been wearing his seatbelts, but it’s very likely that his injuries would have been considerably less severe. Contrary to the myth of “being thrown free” of an accident to survive, those who are thrown, either through the windshield or a window or around the car’s interior, suffer more serious injuries by far. They are far more likely to die. Had Corzine been wearing his seatbelts, he might even have walked away from the collision. I note that the only completely uninjured person in the car, an aide, was wearing his seatbelt. The state trooper who was driving suffered relatively minor injuries. He, too, was apparently wearing his seatbelt. In any event, Corzine is incredibly lucky that he didn’t suffer any major head trauma and brain damage, which are frequent consequences of being in motor vehicle collisions without a seatbelt.

As a former trauma surgeon, I consider anyone who doesn’t wear their seatbelts to be either ignorant, an idiot, or both on this matter, and Corzine set a terrible example by failing to wear his, in the process paying a terrible price for his carelessness. I’ve seen others pay the same price time and time again, even to the point of paying with their lives or with the destruction of their personalities though brain damage so severe that they’re never the same again. Some were made quadriplegic from spinal cord injuries. Here’s hoping Corzine recovers as quickly as possible, given his injuries, and that he learns from his foolishness. Here’s also hoping that the price he paid serves as a wakeup call to those who think they don’t them: Seatbelts save lives.