Auto accidents can be ferocious by definition.  The vehicle and its occupants are exposed to devastating, even life-threatening, forces. Between 1975 and 2006, seatbelts are estimated to have saved 225,000 lives, according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Seatbelts are intended to keep car occupants safe in the event of a car or truck accident. Automobile manufacturers, however, have issued more than a thousand safety recalls for seatbelts since 1996.

Some seatbelts, due to a design or manufacturing defect, fail to keep vehicle occupants safe in an accident. Worse, defective seatbelts can actually cause injuries, increase the severity of injuries or even cause the death of those they were meant to protect. In brief: when seatbelts don’t work properly, people are severely injured and even die.

SeatbeltSeatbelts alone cannot protect drivers and passengers in a car accident. They are only one part of a series of vehicle safety features that work together to protect occupants in an accident. Using your seatbelt, however, will greatly increase your chances of surviving a serious car accident. In 2007, more than 54% of the vehicle occupants killed in car accidents were not wearing their seatbelts.  To add insult to injury, thousands of other vehicle occupants who were wearing their seatbelts were unnecessarily injured or died due to dangerously defective seatbelts.

Many types of manufacturing and design defects can affect the proper functioning of a seatbelt.  Design defects refer to the pre-construction, intentional design of the seatbelt or occupant restraint system. An example of a flawed design would be the lap-only seatbelt configuration that is now defunct due to the design’s inherent danger. Manufacturing defects refer to the construction and installation of the seatbelt. Showing that the seatbelt does not follow the specifications of the design [i.e. when a bolt is missing] can provide evidence of an automotive product liability manufacturing defect.

Types of Seatbelt Defects

The most common kinds of seatbelt defects include faulty buckles, lap-only belts, shoulder belts, retractor failures, vehicle system failures, child seat belts and booster seats.  Other defects can include ineffective tension sensors, missing parts, warning light failures, faulty anchor plates, release buttons, insufficient webbing material strength or sewing problems.

Seatbelt Defect Injuries

Injuries caused by wearing your seatbelt usually affect the upper body [head, torso and arms]. However, when a seatbelt breaks during a car accident, injuries become strikingly similar to those of an unrestrained vehicle occupant. Serious injuries caused by defective seatbelts can include:

Common Seatbelt Defects:

  • Seatbelt Pretensioner: A pretensioner is a mechanism in a three-point seatbelt system that retracts the slack in a seatbelt during an accident. A lack of pretensioner or a pretensioner failure can lead to undesirable amounts of slack in the seatbelt, allowing the occupant to hit the steering wheel, instrument panel or windshield, or to even be ejected from the vehicle, which can cause spine fractures, head and facial injuries, abdominal injuries or even death.
  • Buckle: Seatbelt buckles have been recalled numerous times for defects. The most common buckle defects are unlatching and false latching. False latching happens when the buckle appears to be latched, but is not. Both unlatching and false latching seatbelt defects render the occupant restraint system useless in a car accident.
  • Lap Belt Only: Some older vehicles remain equipped with lap belt only seatbelts, which do not contain an upper torso restraint.  These seatbelts have caused severe abdominal injuries, head and facial injuries, and fractures of the spine during a car accident.

Even though seatbelts can be defective and have their own set of risks, wearing a seatbelt is always a better idea than not wearing one. If you have been injured in a car crash where a seatbelt failed, you need an experienced product liability lawyer to investigate your accident. Contact the experienced national auto product liability lawyers of Craft Law Firm.