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Can a seat belt actually cause injury in an accident?

There’s been a huge push across the nation to raise public awareness about the safety benefits of wearing a seat belt whenever you’re in a moving vehicle. In 2015, seat belt use saved nearly 14,000 lives in motor vehicle accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many people don’t know, however, that sometimes a seat belt can actually cause injury in the event of an accident. This article examines some causes of such injuries:

Improper use

Failing to wear a seat belt as intended could lead to injury. If you wear your seat belt too loosely, it may not provide the necessary restraint in the event of a collision. In addition, if you wear it over your stomach—rather than across your hips—it could increase your risk of organ damage and internal bleeding in an accident. Health risks are increased further if you wear a seat belt in this way while pregnant.

Product liability

Manufacturing defects may prevent certain equipment from functioning as it should in an accident. For instance, if a seat belt’s tension detectors malfunction or its latch doesn’t lock properly, these defects could be grounds for a product liability suit.

In some accidents, a passenger’s body may slide down underneath the lap restraint of the seat belt. This effect is known as seat belt submarining and is especially common among children. When it occurs, the displaced belt redirects the impact from the collision and can cause a variety of injuries, including:

  • Abdominal and pelvic injuries
  • Internal bleeding
  • Leg and spine fractures

There are different causes of seat belt submarining. In the driver slams on the brakes, the sudden drop in momentum could force a passenger to slide downward. Another cause could be improper seat cushion design. If the base of your seat slides forward, this could be a defect for which the manufacturer could be held liable.

Prevention

While seat belt related injuries may not be preventable, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the risk of injury from seat belts. When you fasten your seat belt, make sure it fits securely and comfortably across your waist. If you have children under 4 feet 9 inches tall—the height specified under Ohio safety recommendations—you should secure them in a booster seat any time they travel in a motor vehicle.

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