Automobile accidents often lead to serious injuries and sometimes even death. But when the vehicle involved in the accident contains a defective product such as a seat belt, the injuries are often magnified.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately three million people suffer injuries caused by seat belt failure in the U.S. each year, and approximately 40,000 people die due to defective seat belts annually. Seat belt failure has been found to be one of the major causes of serious injury in rollover accidents.

The Phases of an Automobile Accident

Experts divide auto accidents into three phases:

  • Phase I: The vehicle collides with another object.
  • Phase II: The human collision, in which the occupant continues to move forward toward the point of impact. If restrained, the outside force will be met by the seat belt; if unrestrained, the occupant will strike the inside of the vehicle.
  • Phase III: The internal collision, in which the occupant’s internal organs move toward the point of impact and hit other organs, bones, and the skull, resulting in internal injuries.

It is actually during the second collision phase of a car accident when seat belt failure can cause harm to a passenger, since a properly functioning seat belt would potentially reduce or eliminate contact between the passenger and the vehicle’s interior.


Automobile recalls are relatively common, and it is important that car owners pay attention to every recall in case their vehicle is being recalled for a safety issue, including:

  • Defective airbags
  • Faulty brakes
  • Seat belt issues

While seat belts are intended to protect passengers from injury in the event of an accident, defective seat belts often cause more harm than they prevent, and when a properly worn seat belt does not protect the occupant of a vehicle, serious injuries can occur. There are a variety of ways in which a seat belt system may fail and not properly protect the passengers in a vehicle, including:

  • False latching
  • Accidental unlatching
  • Belt detaching
  • Material or weaving defects that result in rips or tears
  • Design, production, or installation defect
  • Retractor failure
  • Ill-fitting shoulder harness
  • Door mounted belts
  • Lap only belt designs

There are some signs which may indicate that a seat belt defect caused or exacerbated injuries in an automobile collision, including:

  • A belted victim suffers injuries in an accident with little or no vehicle damage.
  • The injured occupant is unbelted but insists they were wearing their seat belt prior to the accident.
  • More than one belted passenger sustained serious injuries in the collision.
  • A belted passenger makes contact with the windshield or is ejected from the vehicle.

While a number of vehicles are recalled each year due to seat belt defects, many people still have not been adequately warned about this extremely preventable cause of serious injury.

Image by Benjamin Goodger

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