There is nothing in your automobile that will help protect you and your passengers from a traffic collision better than the safety belts. Also known as seat belts, these protective harnesses have saved more lives in motor vehicle accidents than any other accessory and device manufactured in automobiles. Every year, seat belts save thousands of lives (in 2003, they saved 15,000 people) and as more and more states adopt mandatory seat belt laws, they will continue to save more.
However, for as many lives as seat belts save, there are also thousands of people who aren’t saved from dying in automobile accidents, because they weren’t wearing their seat belts. Even worse, though, are the fatalities that stem from defective safety belts. For those 15,000 lives saved in 2003, at least an additional 6,000 could have been saved had their seatbelts been functioning properly at the time of impact.
Seat belts not only save the lives of passengers and drivers, but they also save $50 billion annually in medical care, lost wages, and other injury-related expenses from traffic collisions and other automobile accidents. Seat belt failures cause serious injuries, which can interfere with a person’s ability to perform at work. Sometimes these injuries - including fractures, dislocations, lacerations, bruising, concussions, and whiplash - can lead to extensive and intensive medical treatment and rehabilitative therapy.
When a traffic collision occurs, there is a primary impact of the vehicle striking another vehicle, building, road obstruction, or pedestrian. During the initial impact, it is the function of each seat belt to protect the driver and passengers, as long as they are being worn. If the seat belt is defective or is not being worn, a second impact will occur. This impact is the driver or passenger striking the interior of the car (windshield, dashboard, door window, etc.) or it can also refer to an ejection of the passenger and the subsequent impact with the exterior environment. Defects in the design, production, or installation of an automobile’s seat belts are an imminent factor in excessive injury after the primary impact. Much like injuries caused when a driver or passenger chooses not to wear a seat belt, design flaws and defects in safety belts lead to preventable injuries. However, in the latter scenario, the automobile manufacturer is at fault.
A defect in an automobile’s seat belts can be determined by various factors after an accident has taken place. If a person sustains serious injuries in a traffic collision and the seat belt is still intact after the primary and secondary impacts, then it is possible that the seat belt loosened and allowed the driver or passenger to experience the secondary impact, instead of protecting against injury. If the seat belt is found to be loose after an accident, then it was likely defective as well. The belt is also obviously defective if it is found unclipped or torn after the collision.
Since 2005, automobile manufacturers like Nissan, Mercedes, Lexus, Jeep, Chevy and Dodge have experienced recalls due to design flaws and technical problems in the seat belts of certain vehicle models. Chrysler alone has recalled more than 14 million recalls due to seat belt design flaws and malfunctions.
In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that an estimated 2.9 million people in the United States were victims of injuries sustained because of seat belts. Nearly 43,000 people died that year because of those injuries.
As of 2007, seat belt use in the U.S. was at an all-time high, registering more than 82 percent of motorists.
In more than 20 percent of cases of automobile and SUV rollovers, injuries and fatalities are caused by seat belt malfunctions and design flaws.
Properly secured and inspected seat belts could help prevent upwards of 80 percent of all traffic collision-related injuries and fatalities to children.
Nearly 20,000 people could be saved annually through proper use and inspection of safety belts.
For people who choose not to wear seat belts, medical expenses for treatments after a traffic collision are 50 percent higher than of those people who wore their seat belts properly.
In 2002, 32,598 automobile drivers and passengers were killed in traffic collisions. Sixty percent of them were not wearing their seat belts.
During the primary impact in a traffic collision, only one percent of passengers wearing their seat belts will experience an ejection. Of the passengers ejected during primary impacts, both restrained and unrestrained, 73 percent will suffer a fatality.
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