It is no secret that seat belts save lives. Yet what many people experience when they are involved in motor vehicle accidents is that seat belts can also cause injuries. Many crash survivors suffer injuries directly caused by contact between their bodies and their seat belts, including soft-tissue damage and broken bones. This is especially true if a seat belt is worn improperly. Although experts agree that wearing a seat belt is the most effective way to prevent serious and fatal injuries in car accidents, they can also inflict injuries.
What Are Common Seat Belt Injuries?
Seat belts are designed to seize up when a driver slams on the brakes or a vehicle is involved in a collision to keep drivers and passengers secured against the backs of their seats. Unfortunately, the tightening of the belt and the body’s impact against it can cause injuries. Crash victims may notice symptoms of seat belt injuries right away or hours after the crash. Symptoms can include chest pain, neck pain or stiffness, trouble breathing or speaking, visible bleeding, swelling, or pain anywhere in the body.
Common injuries associated with seat belts in car accidents include:
- Cuts and bruises. The force or strain against a seat belt can result in cuts, scrapes and bruises surrounding where the belt touched the body.
- Dislocations and muscle tears. The impact of the body being thrown against the seat belt can injure the soft tissues in the shoulder or elbows, including the muscles and tendons.
- Broken bones. Bone fractures can occur in a severe accident, such as if the seat belt puts so much pressure on the chest that a rib cracks.
- Internal bleeding. If a rib gets broken by a seat belt, it could puncture a lung or cause damage to other vital organs, resulting in internal bleeding.
Despite the possibility of seat belt injuries, you should always buckle up as a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle – for your own safety as well as to obey state law. Missouri law (Revisor of Missouri 307.178) states that all drivers and passengers must wear seat belts at all times while a vehicle is being operated. Failing to wear a seat belt can result in a fine. It can also cause much more severe injuries than potential harm from the belt itself.
What Can I Do to Minimize Seat Belt Injuries?
When worn the correct way, a seat belt can keep a vehicle occupant securely in place in a vehicle collision, preventing him or her from being propelled from the vehicle or tossed around the cab of the car. Combined with an airbag system, seat belts can protect passengers from serious and fatal injuries in a car crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives in 2017 alone. The best way to prevent injuries caused by a seat belt is to wear the belt properly.
A seat belt should sit securely across the wearer’s body in two places: the lap and chest. The lap belt should fit snugly across the tops of the thighs. It should not cut across the wearer’s stomach. The shoulder belt should cross over the wearer’s shoulder and chest, not the neck or stomach. The shoulder belt should not be behind the wearer’s back or tucked under the arm. Using a seat belt incorrectly greatly increases the risk of the belt causing injuries, as it can direct the main forces of the accident to weaker and more vulnerable parts of the body, such as the stomach, internal organs, neck and spine.
Small children riding in motor vehicles must use car seats or booster seats until a certain age and height. This is because young children are not tall enough to properly wear a seat belt across the body. Children should be snugly strapped into the correct child safety seat according to the Missouri law and the instructions of the car seat manufacturer.
If you or your child suffered seat belt injuries in an automobile accident in Kansas City, speak to an attorney about your rights. The at-fault driver’s insurance company is liable for these injuries, as they would not have occurred were it not for the car crash.