Original Article

International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 126, Issue 1, pp 13-18

When backyard fun turns to trauma: risk assessment of blunt ballistic impact trauma due to potato cannons

  • Matthias FrankAffiliated withDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University GreifswaldDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin Email author 
  • , Oliver JobskiAffiliated withLandeskriminalamt (LKA) Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
  • , Britta BockholdtAffiliated withDepartment of Legal Medicine, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald
  • , Rico GrossjohannAffiliated withDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University Greifswald
  • , Dirk StengelAffiliated withDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University GreifswaldDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin
  • , Axel EkkernkampAffiliated withDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University GreifswaldDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin
  • , Peter HinzAffiliated withDepartment of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin

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Abstract

Although potato cannons are an area of great interest among internet users, they are almost completely unknown in the medical community. These simple ballistic devices are made from plastic plumbing pipes and are powered with propellant gas from aerosol cans. By combustion of the gas–oxygen mixture, a high pressure is produced which propels the potato chunks through the barrel. It is the aim of this study to investigate the hazardous potential of these shooting devices. Test shots were performed using three illegally manufactured potato cannons that were confiscated by police authorities. Velocity, impulse, kinetic energy, and energy density were calculated. The risk of head and chest injuries was investigated by using Sturdivan's Blunt Criterion (BC), an energy based five parametric trauma model assessing the vulnerability to blunt weapons, projectile impacts, and behind-body-armor exposures. The probability of lethality due to blunt impact trauma to the chest was assessed using Sturdivan's lethality model. For potential head impacts, all test shots far exceeded the critical BC (head) value which corresponds to a 50% risk of skull fracture. The risk of injury with regard to chest impacts was similar. All but two test shots far exceeded the critical BC (chest) value corresponding to a 50% risk of sustaining a thoracic skeletal injury of Abbreviated Injury Scale 2 or 3. The probability of a lethal injury due to blunt chest impact was as high as 20%. To conclude, this work demonstrates that potato cannons should be considered dangerous weapons rather than as toys used by adventurous adolescents.

Keywords

Trauma biomechanics Blunt impact trauma Trauma model Blunt criterion Spud gun