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Seat Belts – Can Using Them Improperly Cause Injuries?

A young, Caucasian man buckling up in his car to illustrate how seatbelts used improperly cause injury.

It comes as no surprise that seat belts save lives. After all, it’s been statistically proven that wearing a seat belt can reduce injuries. On the other hand, wearing a seat belt alone doesn’t guarantee the safety of drivers or their passengers involved in an automobile accident. In some rare instances, seat belts themselves may actually cause further injury, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear them. To the contrary, don’t click your seat belt and, in most states, receive a ticket. Worse yet, get involved in a crash that causes you major injuries and your auto insurance company could be reluctant to pay for those injuries.

Considering the majority of seat belt injuries are relatively minor – and, even somewhat expected as a result of high-impact crashes – on occasion, injuries sustained from wearing seat belts can be serious. When a vehicle comes to a sudden stop in a collision, the job of a seat belt is to restrain a still-moving driver or passenger. In doing so, though the seat belt may prevent serious injury to the parties within the vehicle when worn and functioning properly, the possibility still exists that the same seat belt that’s designed to save lives can cause injury, based on the magnitude of the accident. In addition, exceptionally tight restraints, seat belt failure or malfunction, improper placement of the belt on the body, or a manufactures defect can contribute to injuries.

As previously stated, most seat belt injuries are minor in nature, mainly involving bruising and scrapes from restraints, depending on the severity of the impact. Normally, lap belts can be responsible for varying degrees of internal injuries to the abdomen and spinal cord, while shoulder belts have been known to cause injuries to the shoulder, neck, and sternum. In most severe cases, seat belts can cause such injuries as fractures, dislocations, internal bleeding, spine injuries, and intestinal injuries. But, these examples are the result of extremely high speed collisions, the outcome of which would most likely be certain death without the use of a seat and shoulder belt.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), proper placement of seat belts is critical in reducing your risk of injury from the seat belts, themselves, in an accident.

• The shoulder belt should be positioned across mid-chest and away from your neck.
• The lap or seat belt should positioned firmly across your hips and below your stomach.
• Never place the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm, simply for comfort reasons.
• Your belts should never be abnormally tight or loose to the extent that the occupant moves freely and unsecured across the seat.

Many seat belt injuries can often be blamed on defects in the seat belt restraint system, where the belt fails to perform as expected due to a design flaw or mistake in manufacturing. More specifically, these defects include defective latches or tension detectors. With a latch problem, the seat belt can detach from the force or angle of impact in a collision. Meanwhile, tension detectors may experience failure, removing slack in the belt or by failing to maintain belt tautness after the slack is removed.

While wearing a seat and shoulder belt doesn’t ensure you won’t suffer some sort of injury from their use in a crash…the alternative of not wearing them is almost guaranteed.

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