Sophia Malthus was meant to be celebrating her 22nd birthday at a restaurant in Auckland's CBD on Thursday.

Instead she was sharing a roast chicken with her family from her bed in Auckland City Hospital, after she and her boyfriend were caught up in a high-speed crash on the city's Southern motorway.

It was a second brush with death for Malthus, who was paralysed when she was thrown from her horse during training two years ago.

It was around 1.30pm and raining on Thursday when Malthus' boyfriend slowed as they approached heavy traffic.

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Then a van slammed into them from behind, shunting them into another car. A driver following estimated the van had hit at a high speed.

The crash near Greenlane blocked two lanes and caused major congestion, with a truck was required to separate their Mazda station wagon from the other two vehicles.

But although there was plenty of rubbernecking, they say nobody stopped to help - even when her boyfriend had to carry her from their totalled car.

"I had to yell at people to start doing things. I feel bad, because I was cussing at these guys, telling them, you call the cops, you call the ambulance. No one stopped," he said.

"I was surprised - if you see a guy carrying a girl out of a car crash, you'd stop and make sure they're okay."

Malthus, a former jockey, was paralysed with a spinal cord injury in 2016. She lost most sensation from the collarbone down, can't move her legs and has minimal movement in her arms.

She has become an inspiration online to disabled and able-bodied people alike thanks to her infectious positivity.

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Her Instagram post informing followers of Thursday's crash was typically lighthearted - sending out "special thanks" to the van driver. "I've always wanted whiplash and a CT scan for my bday", she wrote.

Her text to her parents was equally blasé as she didn't want them worrying.

"I didn't quite let my parents know how serious it was - we just said we'd been in a little crash," she said. "It's more just that they're sick of me ending up in hospital."

In fact the crash could easily have been worse. The car was "completely totalled, front and back, it was crunched in together", her boyfriend said.

Both suffered whiplash, bruises and burns from the airbags, and Malthus needed a CT scan as, lacking feeling in most of her body, she couldn't tell if there was other damage.

Sophia Malthus and her boyfriend were lucky to escape with bruises and whiplash after their car was sandwiched between two vehicles. Photo / Supplied
Sophia Malthus and her boyfriend were lucky to escape with bruises and whiplash after their car was sandwiched between two vehicles. Photo / Supplied

Malthus understood the drivers in the other cars had escaped relatively uninjured - and said the van driver had apologised profusely.

"I think he was in shock - he felt really bad and he's already gonna get in legal trouble. He just said he looked away for a minute," her boyfriend said.