In a collision, seat belts restrain the car’s occupants. Sometimes the forces are so extreme that even the properly seat belted person will experience minor injuries such as bruising from the seat belt straps. When improperly used, the seat belt straps can crack ribs and damage internal organs. There are plenty of cases where the properly seat belted person walked away from an accident that killed his improperly seat belted companion.
Here are four common types of seat belt misuse:
- Placing the shoulder belt under the arm. People often do this for personal comfort reasons. Proper shoulder belt use distributes pressure across the shoulder, sternum, and multiple ribs. As a consequence, no one particular bone is excessively stressed. Placing the shoulder belt under the arm places all the stress across one or two of the lower ribs and directly on the organs within the abdomen. This can break these ribs and cause serious or fatal organ damage.
- Placing the lap belt above the pelvic bones on the stomach. The lap belt should be placed across the pelvic bones. These are strong and can bear the high lap belt forces in an accident. By contrast, the internal organs in the stomach area are soft and easily damaged by the lap belt.
- Placing the shoulder belt behind the back. This leaves only the lap belt for restraining the person, which can cause the upper body to jackknife forward in a frontal collision. This may injure the organs in the abdomen and possibly sever the spinal cord.
- Reclining the seat too far. Reclining the seat all the way separates the shoulder belt from the body. A collision may cause the shoulder belt to injure the upper body or neck. The person’s horizontal positioning relative to the lap belt can cause him to slide forward underneath it. The belt may then crush the abdominal organs. Sometimes the belt will enter into the abdominal cavity.