When well-designed seatbelts are used correctly, they constitute one of the most effective means of saving lives behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, seatbelt use reduces collision-related deaths and serious injuries by half. Seatbelt-related injury prevention is even more effective for rear seat occupants in SUVs and vans. Unfortunately, seatbelt use is no guarantee of safety, particularly in vehicles with significant design flaws.
Common Types of Seatbelt Defects
A variety of seatbelt defects put drivers and passengers at risk. The following are a few of the most common seatbelt issues:
- Lack of Shoulder Belt
Many older vehicle models come only equipped with lap belts. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, rear seat lap belts actually increase the risk of abdominal injury in frontal collisions, while combination lap and shoulder belts greatly reduce that risk.
- Automatic Shoulder Belts
Just as lap belts are not nearly effective as shoulder/lap belts, automatic shoulder belts are far less effective when used without lap belts. Sometimes, automatic shoulder belts cause vehicle occupants to forget to fasten lap belts. These shoulder belts cannot fully restrain passengers when used without lap belts.
- Malfunctioning Buckles
If a seatbelt’s buckle malfunctions, the driver or passenger may not be fully restrained in the event of a collision. Inertial unlatching is of especially great concern; this involves release buttons on the front face of the seatbelt’s buckle. These release buttons are surprisingly easy to trigger and may be unintentionally released due to the force of inertia. Defective buckles may also involve false latching, in which the latch plate looks and feels as if it is fully latched, but minimal force still causes it to unlatch. When false latching occurs, the occupant is thrown about the car as if there is no seatbelt at all.
- Defective Seatbelt Pretensioners
Many three-point seatbelt systems feature specially-designed pretensioners that tighten or create additional slack in the event of a collision. Ideally, these mechanisms maintain correct positioning among vehicle occupants However, poorly-designed pretensioners may cause the seatbelt to have too much slack. As a result, the passenger or driver may come into contact with the steering wheel or the instrument panel. In some cases, the defective mechanism may cause the passenger to be ejected from the vehicle.
- Flawed Seatbelt Webbing
The belt portion of the seatbelt should be strong enough to withstand the significant force of a car accident. Unfortunately, the seatbelt webbing on many vehicles is not nearly strong enough to keep occupants safe. If the wrong material or weaving style is used, the seatbelt may be torn apart. Additionally, protruding objects in the seatbelt’s vicinity may result in torn or shredded webbing.
Common Injuries Caused By Seatbelt Defects
The severity of seatbelt-based injuries depends largely on the scope of the accident, as well as the nature of the defect. Bruising is very common, as are head and abdominal injuries. Typically, abdominal injuries accompany seatbelts that consist merely of lap belts and not shoulder belts. Other common seatbelt-related injuries include:
- Spinal injuries
- Facial lacerations
- Intestinal injuries
- Internal bleeding
In addition to the aforementioned physical injuries, victims of defective seatbelts may suffer severe emotional trauma. Post secondary traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common among car crash victims, and may be worsened if the victim’s seatbelt did not perform as expected.
Working with a Defective Seatbelt Attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered one or more of the aforementioned injuries due to a defective seatbelt, it is in your best interest to get in touch with a personal injury attorney. The right attorney can help you obtain compensation for your physical and emotional suffering. In addition to obtaining compensatory damages, it may be possible to secure punitive damages, which hold the vehicle manufacturer accountable and discourage future negligence. To learn more about seatbelt defects and personal injury law, call our firm today.