The Dangers of Defective Seat Belts

by : Katie Kelley

Seat belts have the ability to better protect vehicle occupants from fatal accidents than anything else. According to federal statistics, in 2003, the use of seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives nationwide. However, even more than 6,000 deaths per year are related to the improper use -- or the failure to use -- the proper seat belt restraints during a car crash.

Seat belts save more than lives - they save the nation money. Every year, seat belts save society approximately $50 billion in medical care, lost productivity and other injury-related costs nationwide. But seat belt failure has tremendous costs.

Seat Belt Defects - More Common Than You Think

Though the national average for seat belt use is at a high of 71 percent, due mainly to a $3.7 million "Click It or Ticket" campaign which used paid advertising to encourage seat belt use, nearly 10,000 out of roughly 30,000 automobile crash deaths in 1999 were related to the failure to use seat belts.

However, these statistics do not show the number of people injured or even killed due to defective seat belts. In fact, each year a number of car companies recall automobiles due to defects in seat belt design.

The purpose of wearing a seat belt is so that it can prevent or minimize what is called the second collision. The first collision is when the vehicle makes an impact with another vehicle or object. In the second collision, the occupant of a car makes impact with the vehicle's interior, or is ejected and then hits the ground. Seat belt use helps protect a car's occupants from fatal second collisions with a vehicle's windshield, steering wheel, or roof.

Defective seat belts may not properly restrain occupants of a vehicle due to poor manufacturing or design. These malfunctions include:

* "Inertial unlatching", which takes place when a seat belt becomes unlatched during a collision. Buckles without a "lock-for-the-latch" design are more susceptible to inertial unlatching, in which the latch plate pulls out of the seat belt's buckle.

In 1982, a patent by General Motors said that a properly designed latch should be physically blocked in the latched position to prevent unlatching by inertia forces acting on the vehicle body. Despite these warnings, anti-inertial unlatching features are still not used in all seat belt buckles in new cars and the United States government has largely ignored inertial unlatching in its safety guidelines.

* "False latching", which occurs when a seat belt buckle appears to be closed, but is not. False latching causes a passenger to become free from the seat belt instead of being properly restrained. A seat belt is considered to be falsely latched if it pulls free at less than five pounds of pull. False latching can cause passenger ejection from a moving vehicle or serious injury when the passenger collides with the interior of the car.

* Seat belt durability is key. This includes the material and weaving of the belt itself in addition to seat belts that have too much slack and thus load too quickly, disabling the belt's protective webbing. Faulty seat belt retractors are also implicated in seat belt durability accidents.

Some Seat Belt Buckles Safer Than Others

Manufactures are not willing to make information public regarding seat belt buckles that are more prone to fail during crashes. Consumers are unable to make the distinction between safer safety belt models and what type of seat belt is in their vehicles until the information becomes available to the public.

Because seat belts become released during a crash, it is hard to statistically tell how many people are killed or injured every year due to their seat belt buckle.

Seat belt litigation is a crucial factor in automobile crashworthiness claims. If you have suffered injury due to seat belt failure, contact an experienced crashworthiness attorney. Your seat belt lawyer can help you assess your case and get the compensation you deserve for your faulty seat belt and related damages.